University of Oulu, Finland
Press release 2016-01-11
A recent study summarizing scientific evidence from 13 countries, 4 continents, concludes that cold spells are associated with increased mortality rates in populations around the world. The adverse health effects of cold spells were observed in subtropical and arctic climates alike with an average 10% increase in total mortality (95% confidence interval from 4 to 17%); 11% for cardiovascular and 21% for respiratory diseases. According to the authors, people with cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and elderly might be more susceptible to the effects of cold spells.
Weather monitoring stations measuring the relevant weather variables are already present all over the world, and theoretically it might be possible to construct local alarm systems to issue warnings on an upcoming cold spell. However, according to the authors, the association between cold weather and mortality is more complex than previously presumed. Observing the temperature level of the day might not be enough for preventive purposes: sudden change in temperature leading to that temperature level, prolonged duration of the cold temperature, and different patterns of daily temperature might have additional effects that are still not completely understood.
“You can’t just type cold weather into a climatic model, you have to define it exactly”, says one of the scientists Niilo Ryti, M.D. “Until we can define the most harmful patterns of cold spells, evidence-based prevention is a major challenge”.
The scientists call for further research on the health effects of cold spells. Better understanding is needed on how to use environmental data to enhance and develop the existing and new early warning systems and how to motivate appropriate behavior during cold spells.
The study was conducted at Center for Environmental and Respiratory Health Research (CERH), University of Oulu, Finland by CERH Doctoral Student Niilo Ryti (MD) along with Docent Yuming Guo (PhD) and Professor Jouni J.K. Jaakkola (MD, PhD).
CERH is one of the WHO Collaborating Centers in Global Change, Environment and Public Health. The results are published in the American scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) and they are based on a systematic review and meta-analysis of the available evidence.
The article titled Global Association of Cold Spells and Adverse Health Effects: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis is available online at http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1408104/
Reference: Ryti NRI, Guo Y, Jaakkola JJK. Global Association of Cold Spells and Adverse Health Effects: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Environ Health Perspect; DOI:10.1289/ehp.1408104 [advance access May 15, 2015].
CERH Online: http://www.oulu.fi/cerh/node/8978.
Prof. Jouni JK Jaakkola, CERH, University of Oulu, tel. +358 40 6720 927, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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