Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Climate warming will not decrease winter mortality

Abstract

It is widely assumed by policymakers and health professionals that the harmful health impacts of anthropogenic climate change1,2,3 will be partially offset by a decline in excess winter deaths (EWDs) in temperate countries, as winters warm4,5,6. Recent UK government reports state that winter warming will decrease EWDs7,8. Over the past few decades, however, the UK and other temperate countries have simultaneously experienced better housing, improved health care, higher incomes and greater awareness of the risks of cold. The link between winter temperatures and EWDs may therefore no longer be as strong as before. Here we report on the key drivers that underlie year-to-year variations in EWDs. We found that the association of year-to-year variation in EWDs with the number of cold days in winter ( <°C), evident until the mid 1970s, has disappeared, leaving only the incidence of influenza-like illnesses to explain any of the year-to-year variation in EWDs in the past decade. Although EWDs evidently do exist, winter cold severity no longer predicts the numbers affected. We conclude that no evidence exists that EWDs in England and Wales will fall if winters warm with climate change. These findings have important implications for climate change health adaptation policies.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Get just this article for as long as you need it

$39.95

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Relative excess winter mortality for England and Wales over the past 60 years presented alongside key determinants.
Figure 2: Detrended data showing the year-to-year variation in relative excess winter mortality compared with the number of cold days and the activity level of influenza-like illness.
Figure 3: Rolling ten-year correlation between relative excess winter mortality and the two main predictors of year-to-year variation: number of winter cold days and activity of influenza-like illness.

References

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

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Patz, J. A., Campbell-Lendrum, D., Holloway, T. & Foley, J. A. Impact of regional climate change on human health. Nature 438, 310–317 (2005).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Altizer, S., Ostfeld, R. S., Johnson, P. T. J., Kutz, S. & Harvell, C. D. Climate change and infectious diseases: From evidence to a predictive framework. Science 341, 514–519 (2013).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Stern, N. The Economics of Climate Change. The Stern Review (Cambridge Univ. Press, (2007).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  5. McMichael, T., Montgomery, H. & Costello, A. Health risks, present and future, from global climate change. BMJ 344, e1359 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Li, T., Horton, R. M. & Kinney, P. L. Projections of seasonal patterns in temperature-related deaths for Manhattan, New York. Nature Clim. Change 3, 717–721 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. HPA Health Effects of Climate Change in the UK 2012 (Health Protection Agency), 2012; http://www.hpa.org.uk/hecc2012 (accessed 05/02/13)

  8. CCRA The UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2012. (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2012; www.defra.gov.uk/environment/climate/government/risk-assessment/#report (accessed 05/02/13))

  9. ONS Excess Winter Mortality in England and Wales, 1950/51 to 2009/10. (Office for National Statistics, 2010)

  10. Analitis, A. et al. Effects of cold weather on mortality: results form 15 European cities within PHEWE project. Am. J. Epidemiol. 168, 1397–1408 (2008).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Keatinge, W. R. et al. Cold exposure and winter mortality from ischaemic heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, respiratory disease, and all causes in warm and cold regions of Europe. Lancet 349, 1341–1346 (1997).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Carson, C., Hajat, S., Armstrong, B. & Wilkinson, P. Declining vulnerability to temperature-related mortality in London over the 20th century. Am. J. Epidemiol. 164, 77–84 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Healy, J. D. Excess winter mortality in Europe: a cross country analysis identifying key risk factors. J. Epidemiol. Comm. Health 57, 784–789 (2003).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. Howden-Chapman, P. & Chapman, R. Health co-benefits from housing-related policies. Curr. Opinion Environ. Sustain. 4, 414–419 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Hicks, J. & Allen, G. A. Century of Changes: Trends in UK Statistics Since 1900. (1999); www.parliament.uk/documents/commons/lib/research/rp99/rp99-111.pdf (accessed 17/01/13)

  16. Brown, G., Fearn, V. & Wells, C. Exploratory analysis of seasonal mortality in England and Wales, 1998–2007. Health Statistics Quarterly Report 48 (ONS, 2010).

  17. Kalkstein, L. S. & Breene, J. S. An evaluation of climate/mortality relationships in large U.S. cities and the possible impacts of a climate change. Environ. Health Perspect. 105, 84–93 (1997).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  18. Kovats, R. S. et al. Climate change and human health in Europe. BMJ 318, 1682–1685 (1999).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  19. Langford, I. H. & Bentham, G. The potential effects of climate-change on winter mortality in England and Wales. Int. J. Biometeorol. 38, 141–147 (1995).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. McGeehin, M. A. & Mirabelli, M. The potential impacts of climate variability and change on temperature-related morbidity and mortality in the United States. Environ. Health Perspect. 109, 185–189 (2001).

    Google Scholar 

  21. Davis, R. E., Knappenberger, P. C., Michaels, P. J. & Novicoff, W. M. Seasonality of climate-human mortality relationships in US cities and impacts of climate change. Clim. Res. 26, 61–76 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Martin, S. L., Cakmak, S., Hebbern, C. A., Avramescu, M. L. & Tremblay, N. Climate change and future temperature-related mortality in 15 Canadian cities. Int. J. Biometerorol. 56, 605–619 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Morabito, M., Crisci, A. & Moriondo, M. et al. Air temperature-related human health outcomes: current impact and estimations of future risks in Central Italy. Sci. Total Environ. 441, 28–40 (2012).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  24. IPCC Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation. (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2012).

  25. Coumou, D. & Rahmstorf, S. A decade of weather extremes. Nature Clim. Change 2, 491–496 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. WHO Health in the Green Economy: Health Co-benefits of Climate Change Mitigation - Housing Sector. (WHO Press, 2011).

  27. Simonson, L., Taylor, R. J., Miller, M. A. & Jackson, L. A. Mortality benefits of influenza vaccination in elderly people: an ongoing controversy. Lancet Infect. Dis. 7, 658–666 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Goddard, N. L. et al. Influenza surveillance in England and Wales: October 1999 to May 2000. Commun. Dis. Public Health 3, 261–266 (2000).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  29. Kunreuther, H. et al. Risk management and climate change. Nature Clim. Change 3, 447–450 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Met Office Met Office Hadley Centre Central England Temperature Data (accessed 24 October 2012; http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/hadobs/hadcet/data/download.html)

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank C. McGilligan for comments and help identifying data sources. The European Centre for Environment and Human Health is supported by the European Regional Development Fund and the European Social Fund Convergence Programme for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. The funder had no influence whatsoever on the research presented in this article.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

The idea for this work arose from a meeting between the three authors. P.L.S. searched the literature, collected the data, carried out the analysis and wrote the first draft. All authors contributed to the final version of the paper. P.L.S. had full access to all the data in the study and had final responsibility for the decision to publish this article.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Philip L. Staddon.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Staddon, P., Montgomery, H. & Depledge, M. Climate warming will not decrease winter mortality. Nature Clim Change 4, 190–194 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2121

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2121

This article is cited by

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing