Study predicts ageing population as major factor in future climate-related deaths


As the world grapples with the impacts of climate change, a new study from the Yale School of Public Health (YSPH) highlights the significant role of an ageing population in exacerbating heat- and cold-related deaths.

While climate change poses threats to people of all ages, the study underscores how an increasing proportion of older adults globally will amplify these risks.

Published in Nature Communications, the study projects that as the earth’s temperature rises, heat-related deaths will increase by 0.5% to 2.5%, depending on the extent of global warming. Surprisingly, a warming climate may lead to a decrease in cold-related mortality. However, this decline is expected to be offset by the vulnerability of an ageing population to extreme temperatures, resulting in a net increase in cold-related deaths.

Lead author of the study, Dr Kai Chen, highlights the critical role of population ageing in driving future temperature-related mortality. “Our findings indicate that population aging constitutes a crucial driver for future heat- and cold-related deaths, with an increasing mortality burden for both heat and cold due to the aging population,” says Dr Chen.

Older adults are particularly vulnerable to extreme temperatures due to physiological factors, chronic conditions, and social isolation. By analysing a dataset of over 83 million deaths across 50 countries, the researchers assessed the impact of population ageing on temperature-related mortality.

The study projects a significant increase in the population aged 65 and above, particularly in regions like Southern Asia and Eastern Europe. This demographic shift underscores the urgent need for climate mitigation efforts to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Dr Chen emphasises the importance of ambitious climate action to mitigate temperature-related health risks. “Our findings strongly underline and support the need to account for a significant shift in the number of older individuals who will die from either cold or heat globally, regardless of whether we see large or small changes in climate.

“Without acknowledging the shifting population and the increasing number of people exposed to non-optimal temperatures, both heat and cold, the ability to address the health impacts of temperature extremes will be hindered,” the authors wrote in the study.

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Ritchelle is a Content Producer for Healthcare Channel, Australia’s premier resource of information for healthcare.

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