Nav: Home

Decline in heat-related deaths in Spain despite rising summer temperatures

July 24, 2018

Summer temperatures in Spain have risen by more than 1ºC since 1980 due to climate change. Despite this increase, and contrary to expectations, deaths related to heat have declined rather than increased. This trend suggests that the Spanish population has been adapting to the change, reducing its vulnerability to summer temperatures. These were the conclusions of a study coordinated by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, an institution supported by the "La Caixa" Banking Foundation.

The study, published in PLoS Medicine, analysed data on daily temperatures and deaths in 47 provincial capitals in Spain for every summer from 1980 to 2015. The results of their analysis reveal two opposing trends: on the one hand, a progressive increase in the mean summer temperature of 0.33ºC per decade; and, on the other, a gradual decrease in heat-related mortality risk over the same period. The result of these two opposing trends has been a slight decrease in heat-related mortality of around half a percentage point per decade.

"It is usually assumed that climate change will be accompanied by an increase in heat-related mortality, especially in places where the mean age of the population is increasing," explains Hicham Achebak, lead author of the study and researcher at ISGlobal and the Center for Demographic Studies (CED) at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB). "In our study, however, we observed that this does not necessarily happen if--as in the case of Spain--the temperature increase is offset by a sustained and generalised decline in vulnerability to moderate and extreme temperatures."

According to ISGlobal researcher Joan Ballester, senior author of the study, "We are becoming less vulnerable to heat thanks to society's adaptation to higher temperatures and also to the socioeconomic development we have seen in recent decades. Improvements in housing stock, the popularisation of air conditioning, advances in health services, and awareness campaigns are all factors that may have contributed to the trend we are seeing. However, we still don't know whether this downward trend will continue if climate change becomes more intense in the future."

Deaths from respiratory causes are the one important exception to the general downward trend observed in both heat-related mortality and vulnerability to high temperatures; these have risen continuously since 1980, particularly among women. "This trend could be due to the aging of the population and an increase in the incidence of certain chronic diseases, among other things," explains Hicham Achebak.

Analysis of the data by sex also revealed the existence of a gender gap: there are more heat-related deaths among women than among men. This difference was also observed in the data on vulnerability to moderate and extreme temperatures. Although it has decreased over time, the gender gap has persisted and has been observed every year throughout the last four decades.

The team is currently carrying out the same study on data from Europe as a whole, and the results of that study are expected to be available in the coming months.

Achebak H, Devolder D, Ballester J (2018) Heat-related mortality trends under recent climate warming in Spain: A 36-year observational study. PLoS Med 15(7): e1002617.

Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal)

Related Climate Change Articles:

The black forest and climate change
Silver and Douglas firs could replace Norway spruce in the long run due to their greater resistance to droughts.
For some US counties, climate change will be particularly costly
A highly granular assessment of the impacts of climate change on the US economy suggests that each 1┬░Celsius increase in temperature will cost 1.2 percent of the country's gross domestic product, on average.
Climate change label leads to climate science acceptance
A new Cornell University study finds that labels matter when it comes to acceptance of climate science.
Was that climate change?
A new four-step 'framework' aims to test the contribution of climate change to record-setting extreme weather events.
It's more than just climate change
Accurately modeling climate change and interactive human factors -- including inequality, consumption, and population -- is essential for the effective science-based policies and measures needed to benefit and sustain current and future generations.
More Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#534 Bacteria are Coming for Your OJ
What makes breakfast, breakfast? Well, according to every movie and TV show we've ever seen, a big glass of orange juice is basically required. But our morning grapefruit might be in danger. Why? Citrus greening, a bacteria carried by a bug, has infected 90% of the citrus groves in Florida. It's coming for your OJ. We'll talk with University of Maryland plant virologist Anne Simon about ways to stop the citrus killer, and with science writer and journalist Maryn McKenna about why throwing antibiotics at the problem is probably not the solution. Related links: A Review of the Citrus Greening...