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Big Weather Swings Could Hurt Health, Especially Of Old And Sick

This article is more than 7 years old.
(Jo3design/flickr)
(Jo3design/flickr)

In case you missed this piece on Radio Boston yesterday, take note: wild fluctuations in the weather (which we endured this winter and may face this summer) can be bad for your health -- even possibly fatal if you are elderly and suffering from a chronic medical condition, according to a new report by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health. And this phenomenon of crazy swings in the temperature is predicted to worsen as climate change progresses.

"Day to day changes in temperature...that's what seems to be dangerous," Joel Schwartz, professor of environmental epidemiology at the Harvard School of of Public Health tells Radio Boston. He adds: "We think its very likely that the health impacts are going to get worse in the future."

From the Harvard press release:

New research from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) suggests that seemingly small changes in summer temperature swings—as little as 1°C more than usual—may shorten life expectancy for elderly people with chronic medical conditions, and could result in thousands of additional deaths each year. While previous studies have focused on the short-term effects of heat waves, this is the first study to examine the longer-term effects of climate change on life expectancy.

The study will be published online April 9, 2012 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The effect of temperature patterns on long-term mortality has not been clear to this point. We found that, independent of heat waves, high day to day variability in summer temperatures shortens life expectancy,” said Antonella Zanobetti, senior research scientist in the Department of Environmental Health at HSPH and lead author of the study. “This variability can be harmful for susceptible people.”

In recent years, scientists have predicted that climate change will not only increase overall world temperatures but will also increase summer temperature variability, particularly in mid-latitude regions such as the mid-Atlantic states of the U.S. and sections of countries such as France, Spain, and Italy. These more volatile temperature swings could pose a major public health problem, the authors note.

Previous studies have confirmed the association between heat waves and higher death rates. But this new research goes a step further. Although heat waves can kill in the short term, the authors say, even minor temperature variations caused by climate change may also increase death rates over time among elderly people with diabetes, heart failure, chronic lung disease, or those who have survived a previous heart attack.

This program aired on April 10, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Rachel Zimmerman Twitter Health Reporter
Rachel Zimmerman previously reported on health and the intersection of health and business for Bostonomix.

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