Letter | Published:

The impact of temperature on years of life lost in Brisbane, Australia

Nature Climate Change volume 2, pages 265270 (2012) | Download Citation


Temperature is an important determinant of health. A better knowledge of how temperature affects population health is important not only to the scientific community, but also to the decision-makers who develop and implement early warning systems and intervention strategies to mitigate the health effects of extreme temperatures1,2. The temperature–health relationship is also of growing interest as climate change is projected to shift the overall temperature distribution higher3,4. Previous studies have examined the relative risks of temperature-related mortality, but the absolute measure of years of life lost is also useful as it combines the number of deaths with life expectancy. Here we use years of life lost to provide a novel measure of the impact of temperature on mortality in Brisbane, Australia. We also project the future temperature-related years of life lost attributable to climate change. We show that the association between temperature and years of life lost is U-shaped, with increased years of life lost for cold and hot temperatures. 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. This study highlights that public health adaptation to climate change is necessary.

  • Subscribe to Nature Climate Change for full access:



Additional access options:

Already a subscriber?  Log in  now or  Register  for online access.


  1. 1.

    et al. Heat-health warning systems: A comparison of the predictive capacity of different approaches to identifying dangerously hot days. Am. J. Public Health 100, 1137–1143 (2010).

  2. 2.

    & Weather-related mortality: How heat, cold, and heat waves affect mortality in the United States. Epidemiology 20, 205–213 (2009).

  3. 3.

    et al. Projecting future heat-related mortality under climate change scenarios: A systematic review. Environ. Health Perspect. 119, 1681–1690 (2011).

  4. 4.

    , , & Approaches for estimating effects of climate change on heat-related deaths: Challenges and opportunities. Environ. Sci. Policy 11, 87–96 (2008).

  5. 5.

    & Heat-related mortality: A review and exploration of heterogeneity. J. Epidemiol. Community Health 64, 753–760 (2010).

  6. 6.

    & Temperature extremes and health: Impacts of climate variability and change in the United States. J. Occup. Environ. Med. 51, 13–25 (2009).

  7. 7.

    & Heat stress and public health: A critical review. Annu. Rev. Public Health 29, 41–55 (2008).

  8. 8.

    & Time series analysis on the health effects of temperature: Advancements and limitations. Environ. Res. 110, 633–638 (2010).

  9. 9.

    et al. Effects of cold weather on mortality: Results from 15 European cities within the PHEWE project. Am. J. Epidemiol. 168, 1397–1408 (2008).

  10. 10.

    Models for the relationship between ambient temperature and daily mortality. Epidemiology 17, 624–631 (2006).

  11. 11.

    et al. International study of temperature, heat and urban mortality: The ‘ISOTHURM’ project. Int. J. Epidemiol. 37, 1121–1131 (2008).

  12. 12.

    & Temperature, temperature extremes, and mortality: A study of acclimatisation and effect modification in 50 US cities. Occup. Environ. Med. 64, 827–833 (2007).

  13. 13.

    et al. Heat effects on mortality in 15 European cities. Epidemiology 19, 711–719 (2008).

  14. 14.

    et al. Impact of the 2003 heatwave on all-cause mortality in 9 French cities. Epidemiology 17, 75–79 (2006).

  15. 15.

    , , , & Global Burden of Disease and Risk Factors (Oxford Univ. Press, 2006).

  16. 16.

    & An overview of methods for calculating the burden of disease due to specific risk factors. Epidemiology 17, 512–519 (2006).

  17. 17.

    & Climate change and extreme heat events. Am. J. Prev. Med. 35, 429–435 (2008).

  18. 18.

    et al. Vulnerability to winter mortality in elderly people in Britain: Population based study. BMJ 329, 647 (2004).

  19. 19.

    , & The seasonality in heart failure deaths and total cardiovascular deaths. Aust. N. Z. Public Health 32, 408–413 (2008).

  20. 20.

    , , & Extreme temperatures and mortality: Assessing effect modification by personal characteristics and specific cause of death in a multi-city case-only analysis. Environ. Health Perspect. 114, 1331–1336 (2006).

  21. 21.

    et al. The 2006 California heat wave: Impacts on hospitalizations and emergency department visits. Environ. Health Perspect. 117, 61–67 (2009).

  22. 22.

    World Health Organization Improving Public Health Responses to Extreme Weather/Heat-Waves– EuroHEAT. (WHO Regional Office for Europe, 2009).

  23. 23.

    , , & Climate change and emergency medicine: Impacts and opportunities. Acad. Emerg. Med. 16, 782–794 (2009).

  24. 24.

    IPCC Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis (eds Soloman, S. et al.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007).

  25. 25.

    et al. in IPCC Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability (eds Parry, M. L. et al.) 391–431 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007).

  26. 26.

    et al. Managing the health effects of climate change: Lancet and University College London Institute for Global Health Commission. Lancet 373, 1693–1733 (2009).

  27. 27.

    & The impact of heat waves on mortality. Epidemiology 22, 68–73 (2011).

  28. 28.

    et al. Impact of high temperatures on mortality: Is there an added heat wave effect? Epidemiology 17, 632–638 (2006).

  29. 29.

    et al. Constraints and barriers to public health adaptation to climate change: A review of the literature. Am. J. Prev. Med. 40, 183–190 (2011).

  30. 30.

    , & Distributed lag non linear models. Statist. Med. 29, 2224–2234 (2010).

Download references


C.H. was supported by a QUTPRA scholarship and CSIRO Climate Adaptation Flagship Collaboration Fund. S.T. was supported by a National Health and Medical Research Council Research Fellowship. Computational resources and services used in this work were provided by the High Performance Computer and Research Support Unit, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia.

Author information


  1. School of Public Health and Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Queensland 4059, Australia

    • Cunrui Huang
    • , Adrian G. Barnett
    •  & Shilu Tong
  2. CSIRO Climate Adaptation Flagship and CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences, Commonwealth, Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Melbourne, Victoria 3190, Australia

    • Xiaoming Wang


  1. Search for Cunrui Huang in:

  2. Search for Adrian G. Barnett in:

  3. Search for Xiaoming Wang in:

  4. Search for Shilu Tong in:


C.H. and A.G.B. contributed to the research design and data analyses. C.H. led in writing the paper, developing this with inputs from all authors.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Cunrui Huang.

Supplementary information

About this article

Publication history






Rights and permissions

To obtain permission to re-use content from this article visit RightsLink.