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Dying from Heat and Cold Which Extreme is the More Deadly

Paper Reviewed
Seltenrich, N. 2015. Between Extremes: Health Effects of Heat and Cold. Environmental Health Perspectives 123: A276-A280.

In a review of the human health effects of temperature, Seltenrich (2015) writes that "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," which is, as he continues, that "on the whole, far more deaths occur in cold weather than in hot."

More specifically, Seltenrich reports that "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," citing National Health Statistics Report No. 76 of the National Center for Health Statistics of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Seltenrich also writes that "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," citing the study of Vardoulakis et al. (2014). And, citing the study of Gasparini et al. (2015), he adds that researchers who evaluated 74 million U.K. and U.S. deaths in May of 2015 found that low temperatures were associated with 7.3% of all deaths versus just 0.4% for high temperatures, which equates to a cold-induced/heat-induced mortality ratio of more than 18 to 1.

And, therefore, since Donat et al. (2013) report that "globally averaged minimum temperature extremes are warming faster than maximum temperature extremes," it would appear that current global warming is actually helping to reduce the yearly number of temperature-related deaths. Yet, somehow, this good news never seems to get reported in the media.

Donat, M.G., Alexander, L.V., Yang, H., Durre, I., Vose, R., Dunn, R.J.H., Willett, K.M., Aguilar, E., Brunet, M., Caesar, J., Hewitson, B., Jack, C., Klein Tank, A.M.G., Kruger, A.C., Marengo, J., Peterson, T.C., Renom, M., Rojas, C.O., Rusticucci, M., Salinger, J., Elrayah, A.S., Sekele, S.S., Srivastava, A.K., Trewin, B., Villarroel, C., Vincent, L.A., Zhai, P., Zhang, X. and Kitching, S. 2013. Updated analyses of temperature and precipitation extreme indices since the beginning of the twentieth century: The HadEX2 dataset. Journal of Geophysical Research (Atmospheres) 118: 2098-2118.

Gasparrini, A., Guo, Y., Hashizume, M., Lavigne, E., Zanobetti, A., Schwartz, J., Tobias, A., Tong, S., RocklÍv, J., Forsberg, B., Leone, M, De Sario, M., Bell, M.L., Guo, Y.L.L., Wu, C.F., Kan, H., Yi, S.M., de Sousa, Z., Coelho, S. M., Saldiva, P.H., Honda, Y., Kim, H. and Armstrong, B. 2015. Mortality risk attributable to high and low ambient temperature: a multi-country observational study. Lancet 386: 369-375.

Vardoulakis, S., Dear, K., Hajat, S., Heaviside, C., Eggen, B. and McMichael, A.J. 2014. Comparative Assessment of the Effects of Climate Change on Heat- and Cold-Related Mortality in the United Kingdom and Australia. Environmental Health Perspectives 122: 1285-1292.

Posted 27 May 2016