Deaths caused by hot weather are projected to rise by more than 250 per cent, with the elderly most at risk, the New Zealand Doctor magazine reported today.
The increased death rate, driven by climate change, population growth and ageing, would occur by the middle of the century, according to research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health on Monday.
Researchers examined fluctuations in weather patterns and death rates in the UK between 1993 and 2006.
Using projected population increases they then predicted temperature-related deaths for the 2020s, 2050s, and 2080s.
It was found that "in the absence of any adaptation of the population", heat-related deaths would be expected to rise by about 257 per cent by the 2050s, and cold-related mortality would decline by 2 per cent.
Those aged 85 and older would be most at risk of heat-related death, although the researchers pointed out that this was because of "chronic health conditions and poor aerobic tolerance rather than by increased age per se".
Health protection from hot weather will become increasingly necessary, particularly among elderly.
The authors suggest sustainable options for heat protection, such as shading, thermal insulation, and better choice of construction materials in urban design, rather than air conditioning, which would further contribute to climate change.
"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 authors said in a media release.
Co-convener of OraTaiao (The New Zealand Climate and Health Council) Rhys Jones told NZ Doctor, even though the research focused on the UK, and the effect of climate change varied widely depending on region, issues such as an ageing population and increased frequency of very hot days meant similar trends were likely in New Zealand.
All efforts should be made to mitigate climate change by reducing carbon emissions, Jones said.
However, a certain amount of change was already locked in, meaning adaptation, such as designing buildings to protect against extreme heat, was essential, he said.
Jones warned that Maori, Pacific Islanders and other high-deprivation populations were more likely to be over-represented in statistics of heat-related illness or death, due to several factors, including greater representation among outdoor workers.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Should fluoride in water be the responsibility of central government?