The disturbing statistic behind the '22 Pushup Challenge'

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Story highlights

  • The challenge was created by a 22KILL, a veteran empowerment organization
  • Reports of actual suicide rates point to different numbers

(CNN)If you're wondering why your social media timeline looks like a Crossfit box, you can thank the newest online activism trend. The #22PushUpChallenge fills your feed with equal parts physical exertion and military empowerment.

On its surface, the #22PushupChallenge is easy: Do 22 pushups, post a video and tag it. If you can't do 22, do 10 or five, or just try really hard. Yes, it's a cousin to 2014's #ALSIceBucketChallenge, and the mission is equally as important.
    The 22 represents the oft-repeated claim that, on average, 22 military veterans take their lives every day in the United States.
    We'll discuss this statistic in a minute. First, the point.

    There's a reason for the burn

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    The #22PushupChallenge was started by the veteran empowerment group Honor Courage Commitment. The group's 22KILL movement works to build a community of support for veterans and raise awareness for mental health challenges they face.
    The #22PushupChallenge is one way to put a little sweat behind the always-nebulous motive of "awareness." The ultimate goal of the project is to reach 22 million pushups, and the group uses people's tags to keep a live tally.

    Celebrities have brought it into the spotlight

    Though the project has been around for a few months, there's no doubt that a recent round of celebrity contributions has turned the cause into a full-blown phenomenon. Actors Dwayne Johnson, John Krasinski, Chris Pratt and Kevin Bacon and an ever-expanding number of celebrities are posting up on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter with their mini-workouts.
    As the trend grows, groups and organizations from all over the world are dusting off their palms to pitch in. All of this attention means there's a very real possibility the #22PushupChallenge is the next #ALSIceBucketChallenge.

    The statistics need clarification

    Let's revisit this "22 veterans a day" claim. If it sounds incredibly, tragically high, it's because it is -- slightly.
    The commonly cited figure was taken from the Department of Veteran Affairs' 2012 Suicide Data Report (PDF). From a survey of veteran deaths in 21 states, the report concluded that more than 22% of suicide cases recorded between 1999 and 2009 involved veterans.
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    "If this prevalence estimate is assumed to be constant across all U.S. states, an estimated 22 Veterans will have died from suicide each day in the calendar year 2010," the report says.
    While this is a truly sobering statistic, it's important to note that the average age of these veterans at the time of death was between 54.5 and 59.6 years.
    This is notable because of other known suicide risk factors: White males are most likely to commit suicide, and middle-aged men are the highest at-risk demographic. (People under 35 represent the lowest-risk groups.) So these statistics could represent several causations.
    According to a more recent release from the VA Suicide Prevention Program (PDF), an average of 20 veterans died of suicide each day in 2014. This number did not distinguish between ages or the era of military service.
    Another recent study from the Department of Veteran Affairs examined the suicide risks of recent veterans. This study found that, although veterans have a much higher risk of suicide than the general US population, the average number of recorded suicides for recent veterans from 2001 to 2009 stood at fewer than one per day.
    Though the numbers definitely deserve some scrutiny, the message of the #22PushupChallenge is the same: Public support and appreciation can help veterans tackle the overwhelming challenges they sometimes face after they leave the uniform behind.