Summer Heat Killed 61,000 in Europe in 2022, Study Says

Summer Heat Killed 61,000 in Europe in 2022, Study Says

But the changes throughout Europe haven’t been enough. “It’s a spectrum” across different regions and populations, Dr. Ballester said.

Older people remain highly vulnerable, especially those without access to air-conditioning, and so are people who work outdoors. Older women were likely the worst-off group last summer simply because they live longer than men into the ages when people are most frail and likely to die during intense heat, Dr. Ballester said. He said other researchers have studied the reasons for demographic differences in mortality rates: For example, men tend to have worse health outcomes at younger ages, and some outdoor occupations, like construction, are dominated by men.

This paper did not compare deaths among people of different races or ethnicities, but that’s another important factor in vulnerability to heat, said Juan Declet-Barreto, a senior social scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists who studies the health effects of environmental hazards and wasn’t involved in this study. While Dr. Declet-Barreto is less familiar with demographics in Europe, he said that in the United States people who work outdoors and are more exposed to heat tend to be immigrants of color.

Eurostat does not have a breakdown of excess mortality data by race, ethnicity or immigration status, an agency spokesperson wrote via email. Dr. Ballester and his colleagues recommended in their paper that the countries reporting to Eurostat better coordinate how they collect and share health data, including more demographic breakdowns. This year, the European Parliament proposed a regulation to do just that.

Even without additional demographic information, the study is “very timely” given this summer’s extreme heat, Dr. Declet-Barreto said. He thought the study’s methods seemed sound, given that “there’s a fairly well-known relationship in public health between heat and excess deaths.” He also agreed that comparing the 2022 and 2003 heat waves was helpful for revealing what health and policy interventions are still needed.

Four years ago, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies published a guidebook to help city officials respond to heat waves, and its recommendations included changes to homes and physical infrastructure, like improving energy efficiency and ventilation.

Dr. Declet-Barreto said that he and other public health researchers have found that the most important factor in preventing deaths during heat waves is expanding access to air-conditioning.

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