Health

During extreme heat, neighbourhoods with poorer and hotter conditions at higher risk of death

A new UBC study finds extreme heat in hotter and poorer areas increases the risk of mortality. In Vancouver, social vulnerability and heat exposure can be a fatal combination. “Climate change has increased the frequency and intensity of extreme hot weather events,” said Sarah Henderson, senior author on the study and an assistant professor in UBC’s school of population and public health. “Being able to map and target the most vulnerable areas will be highly beneficial for public health intervention.” To examine the relationship between temperature and mortality on very hot days between 1998 to 2014, the researchers used the Vancouver Area Neighbourhood Deprivation Index (VANDIX) and maps of urban heat islands where the humidex exceeded 34.4 degrees Celsius. The VANDIX is a public health research tool which measures material and social deprivation factors such as education and unemployment rate. This study revealed areas at risk  are throughout the region including Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside but also in less deprived neighbourhood such as Abbotsford, Surrey, New Westminster and throughout the Lower Mainland.

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New UBC study finds extreme heat in hotter and poorer areas increases the risk of mortality. (Photo courtesy of: www.freeimages.com)

In addition, the death risk is higher in neighbourhoods without trees and with lots of concrete or where people are not working due to unemployment or retirement. Henderson stated in 2009, in one week 110 people died due to the outside heat. He also said that most of them were young seniors aged 60 to 70 and not the very elderly. Henderson believes that a factor leading up to the deaths could be that people stay in hot homes during the day instead of going to offices or other places that might be cooler or air conditioned. According to her more people die at home during hot waves. “Keeping cool is the key to staying safe in hot weather,” said Henderson. “Go to places with air conditioning, wet down your shirt with cool water, and you must drink plenty of water even if you don’t feel thirsty”, said Henderson.