The impact of even minor changes in temperatures due to climate change is likely to shorten the life expectancy of elderly people according to a new study by Harvard School of Public Health. The research examines the long term effects of climate change on life expectancy and in particular the effect of summer temperature variability.
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.
Source: News Medical