September 24, 2014

Global Warming Linked To Potential Increase In Adverse Health Conditions

Chuck Bednar for - Your Universe Online

Expected increases in the number of extremely hot days experienced by some parts of the US could cause an increase in heat-related health conditions, according to new research published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In the study, researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine report that the cities such as New York and Milwaukee could see the number of days that are hotter than 90 degrees Fahrenheit triple by 2050, and Dallas could experience twice as many 100 degree days.

As a result, a greater number of people could experience heat stress, respiratory disorders such as asthma and allergic disorders (which are exacerbated by fine particulate pollutants), and both vectorborne and waterborne infectious diseases. Furthermore, climate change could also reduce crop yields, cause an increase in plant diseases, and result in mental health disorders like PTSD and depression which are associated with natural disasters.

Lead author Jonathan Patz, director of the UW-Madison Global Health Institute, and his colleagues say they wrote the study to encourage efforts that will both benefit the health of the planet and protect the wellbeing of people, including the so-called co-benefits of reducing fossil fuel use and adapting to ongoing climate changes.

“Climate change already is affecting global health,” said Patz, who presented the research Tuesday during the Civil Society Event on Action in Climate Change and Health. “The good news is that clear health benefits are immediately available, from low-carbon strategies that today could result in cleaner air or to more active transport options that can improve physical fitness, ultimately saving lives and averting disease.”

He and his colleagues analyzed the scientific data behind some of the current and projected climate-related health risks, which include an increase in extreme heat waves and storm events, an increased risk of waterborne and infectious diseases, chronic health risks associated to air pollution, and a rise in malnutrition and obesity-related risks from unhealthy, carbon-intensive diets.

“Climate change is an enormous public health challenge because it affects our health through multiple pathways,” said Patz, who also serves as a professor in the Nelson Institute and the Department of Population Health Sciences at UW-Madison. “But if the risks are so interdependent, so, too, are the opportunities.”

Those opportunities, he said, include a chance to improve air quality by reducing the amount of unhealthy ozone (smog) in the atmosphere. The research has demonstrated a link between the number of extremely hot days and the amount of high-ozone days over the last several years in cities like Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin.

Their findings are “consistent with well-known linkages between climate and ozone in urban areas, and serves as a major pathway for the health impacts of climate change," said UW-Madison associate professor Tracey Holloway. Furthermore, the analysis submitted a number of science-based strategies to reduce global fossil fuel consumption, including designing more sustainable cities, reducing meat consumption and promoting active transportation.

“Evidence shows there is a significant health benefit in active transport, particularly in the area of chronic disease,” explained Patz. “And with current disease trends in industrializing nations, burning less fossil fuel can yield potentially large dividends for public health.”

“These findings dovetail with recent World Health Organization (WHO) studies that identified major health benefits from low carbon housing, transport and agriculture,” added WHO health policy expert Carlos Dora. “Many of these benefits come from reductions in air pollution, but low carbon strategies also can increase physical activity, reduce traffic injuries and improve food security.”