Heat waves are killer. As health professionals we know the disastrous affects they have on our populations considering heat-related deaths. But did you know that more deaths occur in the cold than in the hot weather? You read that right. The body can lose heat faster than it is produced when it's cold out, which can lead to hypothermia, and low temperatures cause veins and arteries to narrow and blood to become more viscous, which puts pressure on the heart and leads to many of the same cardiovascular stresses as heat. According to Nate Seltenrich's article in Environmental Health Perspectives below, an analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of U.S. temperature-related deaths between 2006 and 2010 showed that 63% were attributable to cold exposure, while only 31% were attributable to heat exposure. Columbia University professor of environmental health sciences Patrick Kinney says “Heat impacts have been kind of like the low-hanging fruit for climate-health research to date. We know that direct temperature effects are important, but we don’t yet know how to rank those effects among the full range of climate-induced health impacts.” Health professionals can get involved by engaging in climate solutions. Join our team of leaders and take action.
Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 123 | Issue 11 | November 2015
Climate change is expected to have profound effects on weather patterns and temperatures worldwide in the coming decades, with serious implications for public health.1 Among the many ways in which global warming bears on human health, few are more readily apparent than the trend of increasing heat waves, which are often regarded as the deadliest of all natural disasters. And despite current and future adaptation efforts,9,10 the overall health burden of heat waves could grow as average temperatures continue their upward tick and extreme heat events become more frequent, severe, and long-lasting.
But while isolated heat waves pose a major health risk and grab headlines when they occur, recent research has uncovered a more complex and perhaps unexpected relationship between temperature and public health—on the whole, far more deaths occur in cold weather than in hot. This reality is obscured by the fact that, unlike heat-related health effects, which spike during discrete events, cold-related illnesses and deaths are diffuse throughout the year, don’t require extreme temperatures, and can lag well behind cold snaps.
An analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of U.S. temperature-related deaths between 2006 and 2010 showed that 63% were attributable to cold exposure, while only 31% were attributable to heat exposure. In Australia and the United Kingdom, cold-related mortality between 1993 and 2006 exceeded heat-related mortality by an even greater margin—and is likely to do so through at least the end of the century. Researchers who evaluated 74 million U.K. and U.S. deaths reported in May 2015 that low temperatures are associated with 7.3% of all deaths versus just 0.4% for high temperatures, a ratio of more than 18 to 1.
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