What would be the effect of global warming on temperature related deaths in Europe? If summers were hotter, there might initially be a rise in heat-related deaths, say researchers; but as people adjusted to warmer temperatures, summer death rates would return to normal.

Mortality increases with excessive heat or cold, but the temperatures at which populations are affected vary geographically. Researchers studied mortality in people aged 65 in seven regions of Europe, ranging from the Arctic to the Mediterranean, and found that heat related deaths started at a higher temperature in hot regions than in cold regions.

Overall annual heat related mortality was therefore no greater in hot regions than in cold regions. But cold temperatures cause much greater mortality:

  • North Finland had 304 annual heat related deaths and 2,457 cold related deaths;

  • Athens had 445 heat-related deaths and 2,533 cold related deaths;

  • And London had 40 heat related deaths and 3,129 cold related deaths.

    Thus active measures to accelerate adjustment to hot weather could minimise temporary rises in heat related mortality if mean temperatures rise in Europe due to global warming.

    And measures to maintain protection against cold in winter could permit substantial reductions in overall mortality, say researchers.

    Source: W. R. Keatinge, et al., Heat related mortality in warm and cold regions of Europe: observational study, British Medical Journal, September 16, 2000.

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