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Climate change increases heat death, especially among the elderly

The risk of diseases related to heat and death in the world is growing due to climate change, warns a new report.

Hot temperatures endanger older and other vulnerable people with heat stress, and heart and kidneys, according to an international team of experts.

Additional exposure to heat waves

Last year, more than 157 million people were exposed to heat waves around the world. That was 18 million more than in 2016, researchers said.

"Trends in climate change, exposure and vulnerability trends show an unacceptable high risk for health now and in the future," said study author Hilary Graham, a professor at the University of York in England.

On average, each person was exposed to an additional 1.4 days of thermal waves between 2000 and 2017, compared to 1986 to 2005, according to the report.

In addition to adults over the age of 65, vulnerable people live in cities and have heart disease, diabetes, and chronic respiratory disease, researchers said.

People in Europe and the eastern Mediterranean are more vulnerable than those in Africa and Southeast Asia, probably because many older Europeans live in cities. Forty-two percent of Europeans and 43 percent of people in the Eastern Mediterranean are 65 years old and exposed to heat, compared to 38 percent in Africa and 34 percent in Southeast Asia.

The annual report was published in Lancet's Health and Climate Change.

Among other findings:

  • Between 1986 and 2017 the global temperature increased by 0.3 degrees Celsius, or half by one degree Fahrenheit. But the average human temperature increase is more than twice as high – 0.8 degrees C or 1.4 degrees F.
  • Excessive heat led to last year's 153 billion jobs lost in the world, an increase of 62 billion hours in 2000.
  • Slight changes in temperature and precipitation can stimulate the transmission of dense fever and other contagious diseases that spread through water and mosquitoes.

"It is clear that the nature and scale of responses to climate change will be the decisive factor in shaping nation health through the coming centuries," Graham said in a press release.

Big economic losses

She added that the lack of progress in reducing emissions and the failure to build with respect to climate change threatens life and health.

Vulnerability to extreme warming has been increasing all over the world since 1990, said Joacim Rockl, a professor at Umeå University in Sweden.

"This has led to huge losses for the national economy and the household budget," said Rockl, who also contributed to the report. "At a time when national health budgets and health services face an ever-growing life style epidemic, further delays in unlocking the potential health benefits of mitigating climate change are short-sighted and harmful to human health."

Image Credit: iStock

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