Heat waves and cold snaps linked to death rate spikes

New England’s sudden temperature shifts may be causing spikes in deaths among the region’s seniors, according to new research from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The study followed about 2.9 million people on Medicare for eight years, while at the same time taking daily remote temperature readings of every zip code in the region. The researchers found that every 1 degree of deviation from the season’s average temperature led to a 1.3% increase in deaths in summer and a 4% increase in deaths in winter.

Changes in temperature put stress on the body that can affect blood pressure and lung function, and increase risk of cardiovascular problems. People can adapt to changes in temperature, but it takes time, senior author Joel Schwartz, professor of environmental epidemiology, explained in an interview with WBUR’s CommonHealth, published online July 13, 2015. When the temperature swings from 90 degrees one day to 70 degrees the next, and then back up to 87 degrees, the body does not have enough time to adjust.

Schwartz called for more research on how within-season variability of temperature may be affected by climate change. He said that “it’s time to put some effort into nailing that down because that turns out to be really important.”

It’s not just the heat: How New England’s sharp shifts in weather affect death rates (WBUR)

Impacts of temperature and its variability on mortality in New England (Nature)