Scientists say “substantial heat-related” deaths are increasing

heat-related deaths, heat exposure
Local people work on a field near Jaipurhat, Bangladesh © Matyas Rehak

New research, published in The Lancet, highlights that “substantial heat-related” deaths are increasing and global warming continues to impact the most vulnerable people

According to a new Global Burden of Disease modelling study, more than 356,000 deaths in 2019 were related to heat.

This number is expected to grow as temperatures rise worldwide, but many heat-related deaths are preventable – by fighting climate change and reducing human exposure to extreme heat.

In a new series on heat-related mortality, The Lancet authors explore how to deal with the urgent public health risk that currently impacts one quarter of the global population.

“More than half of the global population” will face extreme heat

Series co-lead author Professor Kristie Ebi from the University of Washington, USA, said: “Two strategic approaches are needed to combat extreme heat.

“One is climate change mitigation to reduce carbon emissions and alter the further warming of the planet. The other is identifying timely and effective prevention and response measures, particularly for low-resource settings.

“With more than half of the global population projected to be exposed to weeks of dangerous heat every year by the end of this century, we need to find ways to cool people effectively and sustainably.

“Failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to develop and deploy evidence-based heat action plans will mean a very different future awaits many people and communities around the world. Day-to-day summer activities – such as exercising and working outdoors – may change dramatically as increasing warming means people are at greater risk of exposure to intolerable heat far more often, particularly in tropical regions.”

What health issues are linked to extreme heat exposure?

Effects from extreme heat are also associated with increased hospitalisations and emergency room visits, increased deaths from cardiorespiratory and other diseases, mental health issues, adverse pregnancy and birth outcomes, and increased healthcare costs.

Older people and other vulnerable people who may be less able to take care of themselves in extreme heat – such as people isolated at home during the pandemic.

Extreme heat also lessens worker productivity, especially among the more than 1 billion workers who are exposed to high heat on a regular basis. These workers often report reduced work output due to heat stress, many of whom are manual laborers who are unable to take rest breaks or other measure to lessen the effects of heat exposure.

Series co-lead author Professor Ollie Jay of the University of Sydney, Australia, said: “The effects extreme heat exposure can have on the body present a clear and growing global health issue.

“There are many sustainable and accessible options to reduce effects of heat exposure if we focus on innovations for cooling down the body instead of cooling down the air around us.”


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