Extreme heat increasing in the Midwest United States

Leave a comment

Extreme heat is the biggest weather-related killer in the United States, and dangerously hot weather is already occurring more frequently in the Midwest than it did 60 years ago, according to a new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Heat in the Heartland: 60 Years of Warming in the Midwest, presents an original analysis of weather data for five major urban areas—Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, Minneapolis and St. Louis—and five smaller nearby cities.

High temperatures not only can lead to dehydration, heat exhaustion and deadly heatstroke, but can can also aggravate existing medical conditions, such as diabetes, respiratory disease, kidney disease and heart disease. Heat claims, on average, more lives each year than floods, lightning, tornadoes and hurricanes combined. From 1999-2003, exposure to excessive heat killed an estimated 3,442 U.S. residents.

The report examines how the average daytime temperatures, humidity levels and nighttime temperatures within different types of weather systems have changed over time. Key findings include:

  • Heat waves lasting three days or more have become more common over the last six decades. St. Louis has approximately four more three-day heat waves each year than it did in the 1940s.
  • On average, hot humid days have increased more rapidly in frequency, while hot dry days have increased in temperature more rapidly across the Midwest since the 1940s and 1950s.
  • In general, hot air masses have become hotter and more humid during nighttime hours.
  • In some cities, average nighttime temperatures within some air mass types have increased as much as 4-5 degrees Fahrenheit (˚F) over the six decades.
  • Relief from heat is harder to find—all of the cities studied now have fewer cool, dry days in the summer.
  • The results are not due solely to an urban heat island effect on major cities. Less urban neighboring locations showed similar increases in hot summer air masses.

The report sheds light on the importance of city-level efforts to minimize the health risks of future climate change. The findings suggest several consequences for public health, as well as implications for local preparedness and efforts to reduce the effects of a changing climate.

“We need strategies to both build climate-resilient communities and reduce the global warming emissions that are driving climate change,” the study concludes.

It is the third report in a series on Climate Change and Your Health.

1. Perera EM, Sanford T, White-Newsome JL, et al. Heat in the Heartland: 60 Years of Warming in the Midwest. Cambridge, Mass.: Union of Concerned Scientists, 2012.

New report on urbanization and heart disease

Leave a comment

The World Heart Federation has released a new report, Urbanization and Cardiovascular Disease: Raising Heart-healthy Children in Today’s Cities, which shows how urban life impacts heart-healthy behavior.

Although urbanization brings with it many opportunities—such as employment choices, healthcare, educational prospects, social connections and political mobilization—city life inherently comes with obstacles to adopting heart-healthy behaviors, according to the report.

For example, foods high in salt, sugar and fats are often more cheaply and readily available than fresh fruits and vegetables in urban settings. Children are particularly vulnerable to the negative health aspects associated with city life, as they have the least independence from, and are most manipulated by, their living environment. In addition, unplanned urbanization is accompanied by limitations on space for physical activity including lack of planning, crime, and heavy and dangerous traffic.

Heart disease is not just an issue of lifestyle and individual behavior choices, it is the environment around such diseases that have a major impact, the report emphasizes.

The report presents several case studies showing that informed action by governments and key stakeholders who take a whole-of-society approach can dramatically reduce the level of cardiovascular disease risk.

Download the full report or the executive summary here: www.worldheart.org/urbanization.

1. Smith, S. et al. Urbanization and Cardiovascular Disease: Raising Heart-healthy Children in Today’s Cities. Geneva: World Heart Federation, 2012.

Climate change, ozone pollution threaten public health, report says

Leave a comment

Climate change-induced ozone pollution could cost U.S. residents more than $5 billion in health-related costs in 2020, according to a new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists. The report, Climate Change and Your Health: Rising Temperatures, Worsening Ozone Pollution, finds that unchecked global warming could increase ground-level ozone, threatening public health and the economy.

Ground-level ozone pollution can exacerbate lung diseases such as asthma and can cause difficulties in healthy individuals, the report says. Global warming has increased temperatures in the United States by more than two degrees Farenheit over the past century—and temperatures are projected to continue rising throughout the next few decades and beyond. Warmer temperatures increase ground-level ozone. “That’s why we hear warnings of ‘bad air days’ due to ozone pollution most often during the summer and on cloud-free days,” according to the report.

Key findings of the report include:

  • In 2020, the continental U.S. could pay an average of $5.4 billion in health impact costs associated with the climate penalty on ozone.
  • Higher ground-level ozone concentrations due to rising temperatures in 2020 could lead to an average of 2.8 million more occurrences of asthma attacks, shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing and chest tightness—that number could rise to 11.8 million in 2050.
  • The climate penalty on ozone could lead to an average of 944,000 more missed school days in 2020, and 4.1 million in 2050.
  • Higher ozone concentrations could lead to an average of 3,700 more seniors and 1,400 more infants hospitalized for respiratory-related problems in 2020, and 24,000 more seniors and 5,700 more infants hospitalized in 2050.
  • California may experience the greatest health impacts, with an estimated average of $729 million in 2020 alone.

To make the air cleaner, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must strengthen its current standards for ozone and ozone-forming pollutants that come from power plants, industry and vehicles, the report recommends. “But in the face of a rapidly warming world, these efforts alone will not be sufficient—we also need new strategies to reduce the pollution that causes climate change.”

1. Perera EM, Sanford T. Climate Change and Your Health: Rising Temperatures, Worsening Ozone Pollution. Cambridge, Mass.: Union of Concerned Scientists, 2011.

Deaths from climate change will triple in next two decades if inaction continues

Leave a comment

The number of deaths due to climate change will reach one million a year by 2030—up from 350,000 in 2010—if efforts to limit global increases in temperature are not speeded up, warns a new report titled Climate Vulnerability Monitor 2010: The State of the Climate Crisis.

Children in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia will make up close to 80 percent of the casualties. Their deaths, from malnutrition, diarrheal disease and malaria, are entirely preventable with better distribution of mosquito nets, rehydration solutions, and basic dietary and vitamin supplements, says the report, which has been produced jointly by Development Assistance Research Associates (DARA), a humanitarian research organization, and the Climate Vulnerable Forum, a group of countries vulnerable to climate change, including the Maldives, Bangladesh and Barbados.

The report also states that close to 10 million people are estimated to be living under threat from climate driven desertification by 2030, up from 2.5 million today. Around US$150 billion in losses to today’s economy are estimated to be caused by climate change.

1. Development Assistance Research Associates (DARA) and the Climate Vulnerable Forum. Climate Vulnerability Monitor 2010: The State of the Climate Crisis. Madrid, Spain: DARA, 2010. (free access)

Putting public health in the climate change agenda

Leave a comment

Carbon Emissions Affect Health


The Lancet, British Medical Journal and Finnish Medical Journal have come together to urge health professionals around the world to put health at the heart of climate change negotiations.

An editorial, published simultaneously in all three medical journals on 18 November 2010, warns that failure to agree on radical reductions in emissions spells a global health catastrophe. Written by Ian Roberts and Robin Stott on behalf of the Climate and Health Council, the editorial is a call to action for health professionals across the world to help tackle the health effects of climate change.

“Responding to climate change could be the most important challenge that health professionals face,” the authors say. “We invite colleagues everywhere to join us in tackling this major public health scourge of the 21st century.”

Read more at Suite101.com.

1. Roberts I, Stott R. Doctors and climate change. Lancet, published online 18 Nov 2010. (open access; free registration required)

PLoS Medicine: Water and Sanitation

Leave a comment

Unsafe Drinking Water


PLoS Medicine has published a four-part series on water and sanitation.

 The first article argues that the massive burden of ill health associated with poor hygiene, sanitation and water supply demands more attention from health professionals and policy makers.

The second article focuses on water supply and argues that much more effort is needed to improve access to safe and sustainable water supplies.

The third article discusses the importance of improved sanitation to health and the role that the health sector can play in its advocacy.

The fourth article outlines what needs to be done to make significant progress in providing more and better hygiene, sanitation and water for all.

PLoS Medicine: Water and Sanitation

Air pollution linked to risk of death in New Zealand

Leave a comment

A study has found a link between long-term exposure to air pollution and risk of death in urban areas of New Zealand, a country with relatively low levels of air pollution.

The study also found some evidence that Maori (indigenous peoples of New Zealand) may have greater susceptibility to life-shortening effects of air pollution, likely due to a higher prevalence of pre-existing cardiorespiratory disease among the Maori population.

1. Hales S, Blakely T, Woodward A. Air pollution and mortality in New Zealand: cohort study. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, published online 21 Oct 2010. (open access)

Air pollution linked to emergency hospital visits for hypertension

Leave a comment

A study conducted in Beijing found that elevated concentrations of gaseous air pollutants were associated with emergency hospital visits for hypertension. The findings provide additional information about the health effects of air pollution, and may have implications for planning local environmental protection and public health interventions in China.

1. Guo Y, Tong S, Li S, et al. Gaseous air pollution and emergency hospital visits for hypertension in Beijing, China: a time-stratified case-crossover study. Environmental Health 2010; 9: 57. (open access)