More than 70,000 heat-related deaths in Europe in 2022 •

More than 70,000 heat-related deaths in Europe in 2022 •

In a new study by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), researchers have made a startling discovery about the impact of high temperatures on deaths in Europe last year. The study reveals that the number of heat-related deaths in Europe may have exceeded 70,000 during the summer of 2022.

In a previous study, the ISGlobal team estimated that 62,862 premature deaths in Europe were heat-related in 2022. This estimate was based on epidemiological models applied to weekly temperature and mortality data across 823 regions in 35 European countries. However, experts acknowledged that this approach likely underestimates the true impact.

The focus of the study

In the new study, the researchers aim to develop a theoretical framework to measure errors in mortality estimates caused by using aggregate data, such as weekly or monthly temperatures and death records.

The team compiled daily temperature and mortality records from 147 regions in 16 European countries, and compared mortality estimates across different levels of data aggregation: daily, weekly, bi-weekly and monthly.

Key findings

Compared to the daily model, models using longer collection periods significantly reduced the effect of heat and cold on mortality.

For example, during 1998-2004, the daily model estimated an annual death rate of 290,104 for cold and 39,434 for heat-related deaths, while the weekly model underestimated these numbers by 8.56 and 21.56 percent, respectively.

Mortality burden

“It is important to note that the differences were very small during periods of extreme cold and heat, such as the summer of 2003, when the low estimate of the weekly data model was only 4.62 percent,” explained Joan Ballestre Claramont, a researcher at ISGlobal who leads the Research Council’s EARLY-ADAPT project. European.

However, differences in mortality estimates are still large enough to warrant a revision of the mortality burden attributable to the 2022 heat wave.

By applying this new methodology, the researchers concluded that their previous study had underestimated heat-related deaths in 2022 by 10.28%, revising the actual number to 70,066.

Implications of the study

This study highlights the severe impact of extreme temperatures on public health. The results underscore the importance of improving data collection and analysis methods for more accurate and timely responses to rising temperatures.

“In general, we do not find models based on monthly aggregate data useful for estimating the short-term effects of ambient temperatures,” Pallister explained. “However, models based on weekly data provide sufficient accuracy in mortality estimates to be useful in real-time practice in epidemiological surveillance and to inform public policies such as, for example, activation of emergency plans to reduce the impact of heat waves and cold spells.”

Heat-related deaths, a critical concern in the context of global climate change, represent an increasing challenge to public health systems around the world. As global temperatures rise, the frequency and intensity of heat waves are increasing, leading to a significant increase in heat-related deaths.

This phenomenon is particularly evident in regions such as Europe, where historically more moderate climates are experiencing unprecedented rises in temperatures.

Direct effects

Heat-related deaths occur when the body, overwhelmed by excess heat, is unable to regulate its internal temperature. This can lead to a series of health problems, including heat stroke, dehydration, and worsening of pre-existing health conditions such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

Vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, children and those with chronic diseases, are at greater risk.

Indirect effects

The effect of temperature on mortality is not only direct; It also indirectly affects health through worsening air quality, increasing the spread of vector-borne diseases, and worsening mental health problems.

Urban areas, with a “heat island” effect due to dense infrastructure and limited green space, often record higher temperatures and thus higher heat-related health problems.

Public health strategies

In Europe, recent increases in heat-related deaths have led to a re-evaluation of public health strategies. Governments and health agencies are now focusing on improving heatwave warning systems, establishing public cooling centres, and enhancing public awareness of the dangers of high temperatures.

These efforts are crucial in protecting the most vulnerable populations and mitigating the overall impact of heat on public health.

Furthermore, there is an increasing focus on long-term strategies to combat climate change and its impacts. This includes urban planning initiatives to increase green spaces and improve building designs for better natural cooling, as well as broader environmental policies aimed at reducing carbon emissions and slowing global warming.

The study is published in the journal Lancet Regional Health – Europe.

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