The number 4 evokes dread among many Chinese and Japanese people. The reason: In the Mandarin, Cantonese, and Japanese tongues, the words for "four" and "death" are pronounced almost identically.
An analysis of U.S. mortality statistics over a 25-year period now raises the provocative possibility that this fear of 4 can literally scare cardiac patients to death. Chinese and Japanese deaths from heart disease rise sharply on the fourth day of each month, a pattern that doesn't occur among whites, according to a study in the Dec. 22, 2001 British Medical Journal.
A particularly high fourth-day peak in cardiac fatalities characterized Chinese and Japanese in California, where large populations of those groups with many elderly members may reinforce traditional superstitions, contends a team led by sociologist David P. Phillips of the University of California, San Diego.
Mortality data can't establish the causes of the recurring fourth-day peaks in Chinese an