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Viewing Valentine's Day with statistics

SALT LAKE CITY — I asked Facebook friends what five things popped into their heads first when they think of Valentine's Day.

"Overcommercialization" and "depression" came up a lot. Ouch.

No one mentioned "statistics," but a list the Census Bureau compiles gives a Valentine's-Day-by-the-numbers look at the most traditional items on the gift list.

The list made the snarky side of me to want to compare the number of people who dish out gifts without any real thought to ... something. But I didn't come up with a good match when I Googled the phrase "world population of lemmings."

I helped the list out with a little research of my own. And sorry, but the Census Bureau did not include any information about lingerie sales. The topic makes me blush anyway, so we'll move on.

Candy is a favorite. American manufacturers crank out $12.2 billion worth of chocolate and cocoa products in a year and $7.1 billion worth of other kinds of candy. That averages out to 188 Snickers bars per person each year.

An obvious question among the health-conscious is whether the sweetie receiving sweets for Valentine's Day feels loved or is left to wonder whether the giver forgot they just saw a news broadcast reminding them that 63 percent of Americans are overweight.

Actually I hope that's not the case, because I wouldn't mind seeing a little more of the Japanese tradition where women give the men chocolate on Valentine's Day.

Flowers are a favorite Valentine's Day. How do they get all of those roses to bloom just at the right time — in February? Cut flowers are a $359 million industry for American growers, and the amount Americans spend has to be a lot higher when you factor in of the roses shipped in from Colombia.

And are diamonds really a girl's best friend? That catch phrase may have originated with a Broadway show tune back in 1949, but I'm left to wonder whether the lyrics were a marketing plan cooked up a few blocks east of Manhattan's theater district by clever advertising execs on Madison Avenue.

Still, this country's 26,683 jewelry stores really roll it out for Valentine's Day. February sales alone last year: $2.4 billion. Unfortunately, those sales likely contributed handsomely to Americans' average household credit card debt, in households that have cards, of $15,788.

But that's no way to end a story about a day dedicated to matters of the heart, so I'll toss in a pitch for The American Heart Association's list of Valentine's Day suggestions, which include using their healthy recipes to cook a romantic dinner at home or sending your sweetheart (wait for it) a fruit basket instead of candy.