Small summer temperatures to decrease life expectancy

By RTCC Staff

The research found those over 65 with predisposing medical conditions were at risk from even small fluctuations in tempurature (© Pedrosimoes7/Creative Commons)

Even small changes in summer temperatures can shorten the life expectancy of elderly people and results in 10,000 additional deaths annually, according to new research.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, examined the risk to elderly people suffering from predisposing medical conditions from as little as a 1°C temperature rise.

It found that even a small rise in temperature could result in thousands of additional deaths a year.

The study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) aimed to break away from previous studies which look at the short-term effects of heat waves, to examine the longer-term effects of summertime variability, which is expected to increase with climate change.

While heat waves produce higher death rates in the short-term, the latest research found that minor temperature variation caused by climate change could also increase death rates over time among elderly people already suffering from diabetes, heart failure, chronic lung disease or those who have survived a heart attack.

“The effect of temperature patterns on long-term mortality has not been clear to this point,” Antonella Zanobetti, lead author of the report told OnMedica. “We found that, independent of heat waves, high day to day variability in summer temperatures shortens life expectancy.

“The variability can be harmful for susceptible people.”

Scientists predict that climate change will not only increase temperatures globally, but that it will also increase summer temperature variability swings, which could pose major public health concern, says the report.

The research examined Medicare data from 1985-2005 following the long-term health of 3.7 million people over 65 suffering from underlying illnesses across 135 US cities.

They found that in each city where swings in summer temperature were higher, death rates were also higher compared to those years with smaller swings in temperature.

Where a 1°C increase was witnessed, the increase in death rates varied between 2.8% and 4% depending on the underlying condition, according to the study.

The researchers predict that greater summer temperature variability in the US could result in 10,000 more deaths every year.

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