Current culture wars include calls against critical race theory, restrictions on transgender athlete competition, banning books in school libraries, abolition of diversity, equity and inclusion programs, restrictions on transgender medical care for children, challenges to reproductive rights and the anti-woke movement.
Lost in this conversation is the notion that cultural wars, like other wars, are claiming lives.
In children, the leading
causes of death are unintentional injury, suicide and homicide. A common link among these pediatric deaths is firearms. Just over the past year, firearms passed accidents
as the leading cause of death in children. Despite recognition of this problem and a seemingly endless stream of mass shootings using assault-style weapons, there has been little, if any, legislative action to address gun safety issues. In fact, gun control regulations may be moving backward. Five years after the shooting massacre in Parkland, Fla., which resulted in the murder of 14 children and three adults
, culture wars are now calling for open carry laws
with minimal restriction in that state.
Conservative culture war proponents claim
that mental health issues underlie mass shootings and mental and behavioral health should be addressed to curb the problem. We also see bipartisan recognition
of the escalating mental health crisis affecting children and in the U.S., along with a clarion call to address it.
However, culture wars are interfering with these efforts. Under the guise of parental rights, guidance counselors in some states are banned
from having open, confidential conversations with children about what bothers them. School mental health programs in some areas are prohibited from focusing on social and emotional learning
, which can help children deal with stress. Culture wars now mean that the notion of parental rights is also being applied to education in unclear ways, but not when it comes to gender-affirming care
where personal parental and child medical decisions are ignored.
At a time when children need less, not more stress in their lives, students and teachers in many states are having to deal with political-induced stresses. Culture clashes in schools for the sake of parental rights now reach down into influencing what books
children can read at a time when fewer children read books, what subject matter
teachers can discuss at a time there are massive teacher shortages, and how Black studies can be taught
We are also seeing states now refusing to participate
in a critically important national survey to assess the well-being of youth, meaning that assessing the state of pediatric mental health will be even more challenging.
Without making a judgment related to causality, we need to recognize that gun-related deaths, suicides and homicides are greater
in states where these culture clashes are influencing legislation than in those where they are not.
In young adults from 25 to 45 years old, the leading cause of death is unintentional injury
, with drug overdoses predominating. Rates of overdose deaths have increased by 30 percent
over the past three years. In 2022, more than 100,000
people died of drug overdoses, with young adults predominating.
Culture wars have led to the stigmatization of the drug user rather than the recognition that action is needed for death prevention efforts and treatment.
Shifting to those individuals who are 55 years of age and older, we find that COVID-19 is the third leading cause of death
, following cancer and heart disease. When COVID-19 vaccines became available at the end of 2020, there was national enthusiasm for vaccination and long lines at vaccination centers. However, by early 2021 we saw the rise of COVID-19 vaccine disinformation and the rising influence of the anti-vaccine movement in Republican Party politics as this was recognized as a political wedge issue. By the spring of 2021, the U.S. saw a decline
in vaccination rates. The sad fact about vaccination culture wars is that political affiliation is one of the greatest risk factors for COVID-19-related deaths. Adjusting for age, COVID-19 deaths are higher
in red counties than in blue counties, with rural America hit particularly hard.