Heat is already considered the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the United States. Now, a new study from the American Heart Association projects that cardiovascular deaths from extreme heat could more than double in less than 50 years.
This is a serious concern, as extreme heat waves are becoming more frequent and more severe due to climate change. The study’s findings underscore the importance of taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect people from the health risks of extreme heat.
Key findings of the study
The study, published in the journal Circulation, found that heart-related deaths from extreme heat could increase by 233% in the next 13 to 47 years if steps aren’t taken to reduce greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide that drive global warming.
Even if current proposed policies to cut emissions are followed, the number of deaths could still rise by as much as 162% by the middle of this century.
The study also found that demographics play a role in the risk of heat-related deaths. People older than 65 and Black adults are at higher risk.
There are a number of factors contributing to the increase in heat-related deaths, including:
- Climate change: Climate change is causing extreme heat waves to become more frequent and more severe.
- Urbanization: Cities tend to be hotter than rural areas due to the “urban heat island effect.” This is because cities have more paved surfaces and less vegetation, which absorb and trap heat.
- An aging population: Older adults are at higher risk of heat-related illness and death because their bodies are not as good at regulating temperature.
- Underlying health conditions: People with underlying health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and kidney disease are also at higher risk of heat-related illness and death.
Who is most at risk?
As mentioned above, people older than 65 and Black adults are at higher risk of heat-related deaths. Other groups at high risk include:
- People with underlying health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and kidney disease
- People who live in poverty
- People who work outdoors
- People who are homeless
- People who are socially isolated
There are a number of things you can do to protect yourself from heat-related illness and death, including:
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids, even if you don’t feel thirsty.
- Avoid strenuous activity during the hottest part of the day.
- Seek shade or air conditioning when possible.
- Wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing.
- Take cool showers or baths.
- Check on elderly neighbors and relatives.
There are a number of things that can be done to reduce the number of heat-related deaths, including:
- Reducing greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate climate change.
- Making cities more livable by planting trees, creating green spaces, and using cool materials in construction.
- Providing access to cooling centers for people who are at high risk of heat-related illness and death.
- Educating the public about the dangers of extreme heat and how to protect themselves.
The American Heart Association’s study is a sobering reminder of the dangers of extreme heat and the need to take action to protect people from its health risks. By reducing greenhouse gas emissions, making cities more livable, and educating the public about heat safety, we can help prevent thousands of deaths each year.