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America in pain, the nation’s well-being at stake

Nicole Maestasa

Nicole Maestas. (2020) America in pain, the nation’s well-being at stake. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Oct 2020, 117 (43) 26559-26561; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2018650117


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Pain is a signal of distress in the body. It can erode one’s ability to work or to enjoy life. Some people try to numb pain with painkillers, illicit drugs, and alcohol, and intolerable pain is implicated in suicide and other deaths of despair . Pain is commonly triggered by disease or an impairment in physical functioning. However, pain can also be triggered by social or psychological distress. It is widely believed that pain rises with age as disease, deterioration, and stress take their toll on the body. In their PNAS article “Decoding the mystery of American pain reveals a warning for the future,” Case et al. investigate an irregular feature of the relationship between pain and age in present-day America—midlife individuals report higher levels of pain than do the elderly. Ominously, this inverted age–pain profile exists only for individuals without a bachelor’s degree (BA) and in no wealthy country other than America.

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