The United States could face a significant increase in cardiovascular-related deaths due to extreme heat in the coming decades, said a new study by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania.
The study analyzed mortality and temperature data patterns from 2008 to 2019 for each county in the contiguous US and modelled the potential future trends as global temperatures rise.
The findings reveal that between 2008 and 2019, high temperatures were responsible for an annual average of 1,651 excess cardiovascular deaths. However, if current environmental policies continue, the annual average could surge to 4,320 between 2036 and 2065, marking a potential 162 to 233 percent increase. These projections are based on an optimistic scenario where current US policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are implemented.
GRIM OUTLOOK IN A HIGH EMISSIONS SCENARIO
In a more pessimistic scenario where emissions continue to rise, the study foresees an annual average of 5,491 deaths – a staggering 233 percent rise. This research underscores the critical importance of addressing emissions and the significant impact it can have on public health.
VULNERABLE GROUPS IDENTIFIED
The study identifies Black adults and the elderly as the most vulnerable to heat-related deaths, particularly on days with a maximum heat index of 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher. Reasons for this disparity include limited access to air conditioning, reduced tree cover, and the urban heat island effect, which affects Black residents more. Social isolation among older adults has also been linked to a higher likelihood of death from extreme heat.
CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM AND CLIMATE CHANGE
The cardiovascular system plays a crucial role in regulating the body’s temperature, and the strain caused by hotter climates can lead to severe health problems. Increased sweating can result in dehydration, lower blood pressure, and added stress on the heart. Despite ongoing warnings from the scientific community, global temperatures continue to rise, making it imperative to take action to limit the impact of climate change.
“Climate change and its many manifestations will play an increasingly important role in the health of communities around the world in the coming decades,” warns Sameed Khatana, a cardiologist at the University of Pennsylvania.
The research has been published in Circulation.