Health

How experts reach those most affected by extreme heat


OneAs heatwaves become longer, hotter, and more widespread across the planet, human responses to them become increasingly local and specific.

Both scientific researchers and government officials have found that the best strategies for staying calm are those that are particularly relevant to the community. That seems obvious, given that outdoor labor need cooling sources other than school teacher, for example. But current national and regional policies are not always well-aligned – and they run the risk of wasting resources or leaving out the most vulnerable.

High stakes for efficient heat settlement. This summer, record heat waves swept across the northern hemisphere, testing grid limit in Texas, aggravate drought throughout the Southwest, and ignite dangerous forest fires along the Mediterranean. Plus, extreme temperatures are really, really bad for human health. Severe heat causes acute exhaustion and heat stroke, and exacerbates the risk of chronic diseases from kidney disease to obesity. And like temperature increase due to climate changeso is the number of people exposed to its effects; The World Health Organization estimates that the number of people experiencing heat waves 125 million yen increase from 2000 to 2016.

But find those who are most at risk, and then understand why Their baseline risk factors were higher than others, requiring more detailed data. For example, a history heat study from Great Britain — where, coincidentally, there is a record heat wave going on right now — analyzed heat-related deaths between 2000 and 2019. London is ahead of other parts of England and Wales in terms of heat-related deaths reported. adjusted for population, as the chart below shows, due to “island heat effect“From buildings and roads absorb more heat than greener areas.

The problem is, not all Londoners are equally affected and this regional data, while impressive, is not specific enough to show who needs help most. Pierre Masselot, an environmental epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and co-author of the study published this month, said: approach and city-level analyzes tend to smooth things out. In Lancet Planet Health.

Indeed, when the researchers plotted mortality rates in 35,000 smaller areas across England and Wales, they found that significant differences existed within a region – and even within a region. city. In London, heat deaths ranged from 0.002 to 10.7 per 100,000 person years (rates calculated for all years in the study) while cold deaths ranged from 3.6 to 156 per 100,000 person years . As for heat-related mortality, the risk was lowest in a small area of ​​the city’s Islington district while the highest was in the Tower Hamlets district – an area known for its high immigrant population, where about a third of the inhabitants are Bangladeshi according to government statistics.


Highly localized maps of England and Wales (top) and London (bottom) show which communities are most vulnerable to heat-related deaths.

Gasparrini et al. / Lancet Planet Health

With that specific level in hand, the researchers looked for correlations between 15 different variables, including socioeconomic characteristics of the population (e.g., income, age, and population density. number) and neighborhood indicators (such as age of buildings, vegetation and access to housing and community services). Higher rates of heat-related deaths occur in economically disadvantaged and highly urbanized neighborhoods.

With that data, it will be easier to choose possible solutions from “warning systems that are activated during specific hot or cold periods, to more structural interventions, such as planning urban or thermal insulation of buildings,” said the report’s lead author, Antonio Gasparrini. a professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

That doesn’t mean we should discard national policies. Follow circle of labor rules from the Natural Resources Defense Council. In America, the White House has kicked off some ideas last September, such as opening cooling centers in school buildings, developing workplace heat monitoring and standards. Those efforts serve a worthy purpose of setting national standards.

Read more: 5 ways the UK isn’t built to withstand the extreme heat

But programs to upgrade buildings or plant trees in highly urbanized areas must be targeted to be effective. In the United States, Miami-Dade County is developing very specific data-driven initiatives related to heat-related hospitalizations and emergency department visits by patient zip code. The researchers layered that hospital record data with heat sensor readings, shrubs and trees, and pavement types in those zip codes to generate heat injury map.

Jane Gilbert, county Heat Director. “We created a marketing campaign for those demographics in those zip codes.” That educational campaign warned people about the adverse effects of extreme heat and listed strategies and resources to stay cool. The marketing blast included posters at bus shelters and targeted city buildings, as well as social media and radio stations.


Posters to educate the public on how to fight the heat have been placed in the bus shelter in Miami-Dade County

Courteous Miami-Dade District

Just this past weekend, the county once again leveraged its data to distribute 2,700 trees to property owners who had been alerted to direct mail gifts. About 2,400 trees were delivered to 1,200 households. The rest is donated to non-profit organizations. “We’re trying to get to 30 percent of the canopy, but really prioritizing the areas with the highest demand,” says Gilbert.

In Phoenix, the city’s Office of Heat Mitigation and Response took a similar approach. For its tree-planting efforts, the city is mining data on residents’ walking habits. It can then target specific streets with the most pedestrians that could benefit from canopy shade. But David Hondula, head of the department, stresses that even hyperlocal data can be missing, for example, non-crowded populations are hard to track. To ensure that there are no blind spots, static data should only be the starting point, he said. The best way for researchers and political offices to understand all aspects of heat vulnerability is to engage with the community.

For example, when the city was planning to increase shade areas around bus stops, Hondula attended a community meeting where a resident tried to find shade at a stop that Hondula knew about. not on any of the city’s bus routes. “I know there is no bus stop. I knew it, I was the expert,” he recalls. But as the conversation went on, it was clear that the residents to be refers to a bus stop — a school bus stop, not a city bus stop.

“It was outside of our thinking about shade investments. School bus stops are a completely different kind of data that we don’t have our minds around,” he said. “It’s a really clear example of how community understanding of the issue can help shape and grow, and enhance our expertise on the issue.”

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