The health effects of temperature : current estimates, future projections, and adaptation strategies

Huang, Cunrui (2013) The health effects of temperature : current estimates, future projections, and adaptation strategies. PhD by Publication, Queensland University of Technology.


Climate change is expected to be one of the biggest global health threats in the 21st century. In response to changes in climate and associated extreme events, public health adaptation has become imperative. This thesis examined several key issues in this emerging research field.

The thesis aimed to identify the climate-health (particularly temperature-health) relationships, then develop quantitative models that can be used to project future health impacts of climate change, and therefore help formulate adaptation strategies for dealing with climate-related health risks and reducing vulnerability. The research questions addressed by this thesis were: (1) What are the barriers to public health adaptation to climate change? What are the research priorities in this emerging field? (2) What models and frameworks can be used to project future temperature-related mortality under different climate change scenarios? (3) What is the actual burden of temperature-related mortality? What are the impacts of climate change on future burden of disease? and (4) Can we develop public health adaptation strategies to manage the health effects of temperature in response to climate change? Using a literature review, I discussed how public health organisations should implement and manage the process of planned adaptation. This review showed that public health adaptation can operate at two levels: building adaptive capacity and implementing adaptation actions. However, there are constraints and barriers to adaptation arising from uncertainty, cost, technologic limits, institutional arrangements, deficits of social capital, and individual perception of risks. The opportunities for planning and implementing public health adaptation are reliant on effective strategies to overcome likely barriers. I proposed that high priorities should be given to multidisciplinary research on the assessment of potential health effects of climate change, projections of future health impacts under different climate and socio-economic scenarios, identification of health cobenefits of climate change policies, and evaluation of cost-effective public health adaptation options.

Heat-related mortality is the most direct and highly-significant potential climate change impact on human health. I thus conducted a systematic review of research and methods for projecting future heat-related mortality under different climate change scenarios. The review showed that climate change is likely to result in a substantial increase in heatrelated mortality. Projecting heat-related mortality requires understanding of historical temperature-mortality relationships, and consideration of future changes in climate, population and acclimatisation. Further research is needed to provide a stronger theoretical framework for mortality projections, including a better understanding of socioeconomic development, adaptation strategies, land-use patterns, air pollution and mortality displacement.

Most previous studies were designed to examine temperature-related excess deaths or mortality risks. However, if most temperature-related deaths occur in the very elderly who had only a short life expectancy, then the burden of temperature on mortality would have less public health importance. To guide policy decisions and resource allocation, it is desirable to know the actual burden of temperature-related mortality. To achieve this, I used years of life lost to provide a new measure of health effects of temperature. I conducted a time-series analysis to estimate years of life lost associated with changes in season and temperature in Brisbane, Australia. I also projected the future temperaturerelated years of life lost attributable to climate change. This study showed that the association between temperature and years of life lost was U-shaped, with increased years of life lost on cold and hot days. The temperature-related years of life lost will worsen greatly if future climate change goes beyond a 2 °C increase and without any adaptation to higher temperatures.

The excess mortality during prolonged extreme temperatures is often greater than the predicted using smoothed temperature-mortality association. This is because sustained period of extreme temperatures produce an extra effect beyond that predicted by daily temperatures. To better estimate the burden of extreme temperatures, I estimated their effects on years of life lost due to cardiovascular disease using data from Brisbane, Australia. The results showed that the association between daily mean temperature and years of life lost due to cardiovascular disease was U-shaped, with the lowest years of life lost at 24 °C (the 75th percentile of daily mean temperature in Brisbane), rising progressively as temperatures become hotter or colder. There were significant added effects of heat waves, but no added effects of cold spells.

Finally, public health adaptation to hot weather is necessary and pressing. I discussed how to manage the health effects of temperature, especially with the context of climate change. Strategies to minimise the health effects of high temperatures and climate change can fall into two categories: reducing the heat exposure and managing the health effects of high temperatures. However, policy decisions need information on specific adaptations, together with their expected costs and benefits. Therefore, more research is needed to evaluate cost-effective adaptation options.

In summary, this thesis adds to the large body of literature on the impacts of temperature and climate change on human health. It improves our understanding of the temperaturehealth relationship, and how this relationship will change as temperatures increase.

Although the research is limited to one city, which restricts the generalisability of the findings, the methods and approaches developed in this thesis will be useful to other researchers studying temperature-health relationships and climate change impacts. The results may be helpful for decision-makers who develop public health adaptation strategies to minimise the health effects of extreme temperatures and climate change.

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ID Code: 64353
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD by Publication)
Supervisor: Tong, Shilu, Barnett, Adrian, & Wang, Xiaoming
Additional Information: Recipient of 2013 Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Award.
Keywords: adaptation, air pollution, barrier, cardiovascular disease, climate change, cold spell, constraint, economic analysis, epidemiology, health policy, heat wave, mitigation, mortality, projection, public health, scenario, seasonality, temperature, years of life lost, ODTA
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 12 Nov 2013 04:38
Last Modified: 21 Jun 2017 14:48

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