Preventing Cold-Related Morbidity and Mortality in a Changing Climate

May 2015

A critical review of evidence relating temperature variability, health outcomes, and adaptation strategies to cold weather.

Winter weather patterns are anticipated to become more variable with increasing average global temperatures. Research shows that excess morbidity and mortality occurs during cold weather periods. We critically reviewed evidence relating temperature variability, health outcomes, and adaptation strategies to cold weather. Health outcomes included cardiovascular-, respiratory-, cerebrovascular-, and all-cause morbidity and mortality. Individual and contextual risk factors were assessed to highlight associations between individual- and neighborhood-level characteristics that contribute to a person's vulnerability to variability in cold weather events. Epidemiologic studies indicate that the populations most vulnerable to variations in cold winter weather are the elderly, rural and, generally, populations living in moderate winter climates. Fortunately, cold-related morbidity and mortality are preventable and strategies exist for protecting populations from these adverse health outcomes. We present a range of adaptation strategies that can be implemented at the individual, building, and neighborhood level to protect vulnerable populations from cold-related morbidity and mortality. The existing research justifies the need for increased outreach to individuals and communities for education on protective adaptations in cold weather. We propose that future climate change adaptation research couple building energy and thermal comfort models with epidemiological data to evaluate and quantify the impacts of adaptation strategies.