Prolonged heat waves and rising maximum temperatures have a direct impact on our health. The risk of heat-related health problems increases significantly.
A research team led by Dr. Thomas F. Osborne from the Stanford University School of Medicine, in a recent study based on data from the US Department of Veterans Affairs, demonstrate a significant increase in heat-related illnesses in recent years. The study results were published in the “Journal of Climate Change and Health”.
Heat is bad for your health
High outside temperatures that last for a long period of time are very stressful for physical health and the heat can even trigger mental illnesses. The new study makes it clear how far-reaching the effects have been in the USA over the past few years.
When evaluating the data from the US Department of Veteran Affairs for the period from early 2002 to late 2019, there was a statistically significant and clinically meaningful increase in heat-related illnesses, the researchers report.
“The extensive electronic health data (…) made it possible to understand the scale and magnitude of the growing threat and to predict and identify those at greatest risk so that we can target interventions,” explains co-study author Zachary Veigulis from the University of Iowa.
Increase in heat-related illnesses
In the 18-year study period, the researchers registered 33,114 cases of heat-related illnesses in a total of 28,039 people affected. The rate has risen significantly over time and, according to the research team, the probability of heat-related illnesses was generally increased in people with underlying diseases.
“The data is a call to action as it reveals an increase in the incidence of severe heat-related illness among our US veterans. While no one is immune from this danger, those who are traditionally most vulnerable are at greatest risk of heat-related illnesses,” emphasizes study leader Dr. Osborne.
Countermeasures can reduce risk
The researchers also point out that the numbers of heat-related illnesses have not necessarily increased most in the states with the greatest heat problems. This may be because warmer states have previously adopted policies, procedures and practices to mitigate the health effects of heat.
Supporting the effectiveness of such interventions, heat-related illnesses among homeless US veterans declined in the second half of the study period after the introduction and expansion of additional health and wellness programs for homeless people.
Climate-related health hazards
“This assessment is an important first step in understanding the challenges that must be addressed to develop optimal care and prevention strategies,” Osborne said. In addition, the physical effects of ambient heat are just one of many climate-related health hazards.
“Climate change-related health risks, such as the unprecedented spread of infectious diseases, wildfires, migration, infrastructure degradation, and food and water insecurity, are key issues of our time. Joint action is urgently needed to avoid further suffering,” summarizes Dr. Osborne. (fp)