As record winter flooding hits England, a new study predicts that heat-related deaths will surge 257 percent in the United Kingdom by midcentury — the outcome of global climate change and continuous population growth.

Most susceptible to rising heat deaths in England and Wales in the coming decades will be the elderly, particularly those 75 and older residing in the country’s South and Midlands. Investigators from Public Health England and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine used a form of regression analysis to trace recent-year fluctuations in weather, against which they compared deaths by region and age group. After considering future population growth, they estimated the number of future deaths from heat-related illnesses, as well as potential deaths from cold.

"As the contribution of population growth and ageing on future temperature-related health burdens will be large, the health protection of the elderly will be important," the study authors wrote on Monday, referring to demographic changes that led to more elderly people living independently. In the summer of 2003, a heat wave overwhelmed Europe to kill 70,000 including some 14,000 mostly elderly people in France.

The researchers based their estimates on projected daily average temperatures for the past decade as well as future years, using population growth estimates from the UK’s Office of National Statistics. Those projections warn of a steadily rising number of hot days per year, with three times as many hot days by the mid-2080s.

For every degree in temperature rise (Celsius), the death rate would rise by slightly more than 2 percent across the UK. Meanwhile, deaths caused from cold temperatures would continue to fall by 2 percent per year, from 2000 levels of 41,000 deaths per year.

“Rising fuel costs may make it harder to adapt to extremes of temperature, while increased reliance on active cooling systems could simply end up driving up energy consumption and worsening the impact of climate change,” the study authors said in a statement. To adapt to a changing environment, Europeans and others should consider such sustainable measures as shading, thermal insulation, “green” construction materials, among others.

 

Source: Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. 2014.