The health risks of black friday

15 Min Read

Black Friday originated in America. It follows on from Thanksgiving, a national holiday historically celebrated as a time to pay thanks for successful crop yields. 

Though America’s agriculture industry has steadily declined throughout the twentieth century, Thanksgiving has remained. It’s now a symbolic day of togetherness and thankfulness. It falls on the last Thursday of November, broadly considered the start of winter. 

In the twentieth century, something strange started to happen on the Friday following Thanksgiving. Nationwide, employers began to notice large numbers of their workers calling into work sick. 

The unprecedented phenomenon became so widespread that many business owners were forced to let all their employees have a four-day weekend. The Friday that succeeded Thanksgiving was seen broadly by the public as an ample day to begin buying Christmas presents. 

In 1966, the year England won the World Cup, still unaware of the phenomenon, the term ‘Black Friday’ was first used in print in the American Philatelist. 

It was coined by the Philadelphia Police Department to describe traffic jams and overpacked shopping malls throughout the city. 

As people in America continued to flood the shops in their masses on this day, many retailers and shopping outlets began to offer huge discounts and sales in an effort to drive consumer engagement. Black Friday continued to grow exponentially, and gradually spread across the Atlantic and crossed over into western Europe. 

However, because the event is known to draw such large crowds and there are usually only a limited number of products on sale, Black Friday has become something of a breeding ground for unsociable and even aggressive behavior. In America, Thanksgiving, the day of gratitude, family, and togetherness – is followed by a day of retail rage. 

“I think there are fewer violent incidents on Black Friday than we might believe,” says Dr. Art Markman at the University of Texas and author of Bring Your Brain to Work. 

He continues, “that said, people can get caught up in the energy of a crowd on Black Friday. That can create a lot of tension that can lead to aggressive behavior that might be out of character for that person in other situations. This is similar to a person who is normally calm and reserved and engages in acts of road rage when stuck in traffic.”

With this in mind, have put together a list of the biggest health risks that a person may encounter on Black Friday. 


Compressed, Crushed, and Crowded: Don’t risk your life

Black Friday has been growing year-on-year in Britain and has even spread to some areas of Europe. People are starting to gather in higher numbers, some begin queuing several hours before the shops even open their doors. 

While e-commerce has steadily grown, physical retail shopping still accounts for the majority of transactions and purchases. This means the majority of people are still braving about the elements on Black Friday. 

Black Friday draws substantial numbers of consumers. Limited discounted items bring about a sense of urgency and even panic. This can cause a dangerous amount of crowding. 

Depending on the severity, being crushed in a crowd can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening. It can happen at football matches, festivals, and conferences – and it can happen during Black Friday. 

A ‘crowd crush’, or a stampede, may involve the compression from all sides of a person or group of people. Human stampedes can be fatal. Historic examples of this include the Bethnal Green tube station disaster, the Mecca Tragedy, and, perhaps most notoriously, the Hillsborough disaster

There are several risks associated with crowd crushes. People will begin to feel tightly compressed and squeezed together. “If severe enough,” says GP clinical lead from Dr. Daniel Atkinson, “this can put pressure on the chest and lungs and bring about asphyxia. 

Within a couple of minutes, the brain would become starved of oxygen. Within five minutes, people would begin to die. If anyone is lucky enough to survive after this time, permanent brain damage may be present in the aftermath. 

This is without considering what would now be an extremely hot environment, people’s internal temperatures would begin to rise. 

This may bring about fainting. We faint as a natural response to our brains not receiving enough oxygen. If we are lying down, our bloodstream, which carries oxygen, no longer has to work against gravity. It’s an evolutionary response. 

However, if a person were to faint in these circumstances, they would not be able to fall down. This would lead to cardiac arrest. 

If a person were able to fall to the floor, they would likely then be trampled by large numbers of people. This would lead to multiple fractures, a shattering of the rib cage, and subsequent hemorrhage of the lungs.”

Sometimes, finding yourself in a crowded situation is unavoidable. If you find yourself in a crowded situation, take a moment to consider whether you can fully inhale and exhale and whether you can freely expand your chest while doing so. If you find you’re struggling to breathe, or feel hot to the point of fatigue, find an immediate exit, make your way to an open space with clean air and drink lots of water.

Falling over

In busy, stressful environments, the prospect of falling over is at increased likelihood. Injuries as a result of falling down are not uncommon for Black Friday. 

However’, Dr. Daniel Atkinson notes, ‘falls among the elderly are more common and can be more dangerous. Around 1 out of 3 elderly people will fall over at least once every year. It’s vital we all keep a close eye on our elderly loved ones and neighbors because it’s a legitimate health concern. 

People out shopping on Black Friday who falls over may feel initially embarrassed or shocked. Depending on the severity, people may even have the wind knocked out of them. “Having the wind knocked out of you can be distressing. Contrary to popular belief, it actually has little to do with the air or ‘wind’, but instead occurs when the diaphragm, which aids the respiratory process, spasms.” says Daniel. 

It is important not to panic in these situations. If you fall, carry out a swift assessment of your physical well-being, if you are uninjured and strong enough to do so you should roll onto your front and lean on your hands to get up from the floor. You may require a friend to help pull you up, or you may use furniture or a solid fixture to assist you. 

If you fall and injure your head, check for bruising or bleeding. Daniel comments that it can be “difficult to know when is the appropriate time to go to the hospital in these circumstances. Nobody wants to feel like they’re wasting a doctor’s time, but similarly, we don’t want to overlook something that might be serious. You should definitely go to A&E if you notice one or several of the following things.” 

  • If you or someone else was knocked unconscious, even if the person has now recovered.
  • If there is any colorless discharge flowing from the nose or ears.
  • If blood streams from one or both of the ears. 
  • If there is visible bruising behind one or both of the ears. 
  • Any implication of fracture or breakage to the skull. 
  • Any injury to the head of a penetrative nature. 
  • Any injuries incurred through speed or force (in a traffic collision, for example). 
  • If you or the person injured has a history of brain damage. 
  • If you or the person injured has a history of irregular bleeding or blood clotting
  • If the injury came about as the result of intoxication (drugs or alcohol). 
  • If the injury is related in some way to self-harm or suicide.

“There are a number of other things post-injury to look out for. For example, if you or the person affected has problems speaking, communicating, reading, or writing, if there is a loss of feeling in certain parts of the body or paralysis, general weakness in places that were otherwise functioning normally, eyesight changes, fits or seizures, problems with the mind or memory, vomiting, a long-lasting migraine or headache or altered behavior – if you notice any of these symptoms, then it’s absolutely the correct time to go to A&E.”

Fast Food

With all the stress and chaos, it could be tempting to overlook the diet for the day and make the short detour to the food court, often found in shopping centers. It’s likely even restaurants are offering discounted items. 

If your mind is firmly made up and you’re going to eat at a fast-food chain, it can’t hurt to familiarise yourself with which chains offer the most and least calorific burgers. 

If fast food is consumed in moderation, it won’t interfere heavily with health or well-being. However, if eaten commonly – then the risks can begin to add up. If people frequently consume fast food, they increase the likelihood of weight gain, high cholesterol levels, and heart problems. Not to mention the increased likelihood of certain cancers. 

Sleep Deprivation 

Black Friday has become such a widespread phenomenon that some dedicated groups of people have begun camping outside of shops into the chilly hours of the November morning. This is in an effort to be as close to first in line as possible. 

Some people even go without sleep, perhaps the excitement of anticipation is too great. “I’m sure we’ve all gone, or tried to go, without sleep at some point in our lives. As children, this feels almost like a rebellious act. However, it can be dangerous. Around 1 in 3 people are said to suffer from some sort of sleep-related disorder. 

In the immediate short-term, the day after a sleepless night, we may notice several emotional and physical effects. Psychologically, people may feel grumpy, irritable, or generally more emotional. Physically, we may feel weak, achy, or fatigued.” comments Daniel. 

It would appear that some people tend to act out on Black Friday or behave in a way that they otherwise would not, were they in a different setting. This is likely due to several reasons including the desire to successfully buy discounted products. However, it could also be linked to the fact many people camp outside shops and, some, go without sleep. 

However,” says Daniel, “The odd sleepless night can be annoying, but it shouldn’t interfere greatly with long-term health. However, if sleep deprivation becomes a common occurrence, then this can have really serious repercussions. It can bring about reduced quality of life, and reduce cognitive ability, alertness, responses, and reactions. 

There are several health conditions that could develop several years in the future as a result of chronic sleep deprivation. This can include heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, heart attacks, obesity and can greatly increase the risk of a range of psychological problems.”

The Stress of Black Friday

Shopping can be stressful at the best of times. Black Friday can be chaotic and even overwhelming, which may serve to bring about stress incomparable with a regular day out at the shops. Sometimes stress can be a driving force, but it shouldn’t interfere with everyday life. 

However, the wrong kind of stress can impact on both physical and psychological health, especially if it is experienced chronically. 

“Chronic stress can be very dangerous. It can increase the risks of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity can weaken the immune system, can lower sex drive, and may raise blood pressure. Psychologically, it can increase the likelihood of several mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.”

Why does Black Friday become a day of retail rage?

Dr. Markman says that “marketers create opportunities for people to get items that they might not ordinarily be able to afford, which energizes many shoppers. They do this to drive people to spend because retailers need to lock in profits for the year.”

He concludes, “but, energy has to be directed at some kind of action. When circumstances (like low supplies of key products) block people from taking action to achieve their goals, the energy spills over into frustration and anger.”

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Tom Perry, M.D., attended Tulane University and graduated Magna Cum Laude with a B.S. degree in Parasitology. He received his M.D. degree in 1983 from the University of Virginia School of Medicine, where he gained extensive research experience, including studies conducted through the National Institutes of Health.