Heat now more lethal than cold for people with respiratory diseases in Spain

Women and older adults are the populations most vulnerable to high temperatures

Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal)

Barcelona, 20 May 2020. A new study by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), a centre supported by the “la Caixa” Foundation, has analysed deaths linked to respiratory disease in Spain between 1980 and 2016. The study, which analysed data on more than 1.3 million deaths, found that the seasonality of temperature-attributable mortality from respiratory diseases has shifted from the coldest to the hottest months of the year. The authors concluded that the decrease in temperature-attributable mortality during the winter months is driven not by the rising temperatures associated with climate change, but by the adaptation of the population to lower temperatures.

The study, published in Nature Communications, analysed daily temperature data and mortality counts from respiratory diseases–disaggregated by sex, age group and place of residence–from 48 Spanish provinces. Analysis of the data on mortality due to respiratory diseases revealed an average decline in deaths of 16.5% per decade for the colder months compared to relatively stable figures for the warmer months of the year over the 37-year study period. Temperature-attributable deaths from respiratory diseases went from being most frequent in January and December to reaching their peak in July and August.

“Two or three decades ago, respiratory diseases caused by low temperatures represented an additional risk of death in Spain,” commented lead author Hicham Achebak, a researcher at ISGlobal and the Autonomous University of Barcelona’s Centre for Demographic Studies. “The findings of this study show that this risk has gradually been declining. Thanks to adaptive measures, such as the more widespread use of heating and improved treatment of these conditions, respiratory disease mortality is no longer driven by cold temperatures and we are seeing a complete reversal in the seasonal cycle.”

Although this inversion was observed across all sex and age groups, there were differences between the groups. Vulnerability to heat increased with age and was greater in women than in men. Conversely, the effects of cold decreased with age and were less pronounced in women than in men, although the differences between groups were much less striking in this case. “In the later years of our study period, the differences in mortality risk between groups were almost imperceptible for cold temperatures, whereas the differences for the summer months were significant,” commented ISGlobal researcher Joan Ballester, co-author of the study. “These observations reflect a remarkable process of adaptation to cold, but not to heat.”

Climate Change and Health Policy

Climate change is associated with numerous health effects. Extreme temperatures, for example, correlate with cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. “This study shows that the projected decrease in the number of cold days due to global warming over the coming decades will not contribute to a further reduction in mortality from respiratory diseases,” commented Achebak.

“Deaths attributable to hot or cold temperatures are caused by a combination of exposure to extreme temperatures and the vulnerability of the population,” explained Ballester. “Reducing this vulnerability may require policies associated with socioeconomic development, such as those aimed at improving health services.”

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About ISGlobal

FThe Barcelona Institute of Global Health (ISGlobal) is the result of an innovative alliance between the “la Caixa” Foundation and academic and government institutions. The Institute was set up to contribute to the work undertaken by the international community to address global health challenges. ISGlobal has consolidated a hub of excellence in research and medical care that has its roots in work first started in the world of health care by the Hospital Clínic and the Mar Health Park and in the academic sphere by the University of Barcelona and Pompeu Fabra University. The pivotal mechanism of its work model is the transfer of knowledge generated by scientific research to practice, a task undertaken by the Institute’s Education, Policy and Global Development departments. ISGlobal is accredited as a Severo Ochoa Centre of Excellence and is a member of CERCA, the Catalan Government’s network of research centres.

FromEurekAlert!

52 thoughts on “Heat now more lethal than cold for people with respiratory diseases in Spain

  1. Have they never heard of air-conditioning? With the countryside of Spain plastered with solar panels, what could be better?

    • it is difficult to air condition fields where workers tend crops. It is expensive for retirees to buy AC for a house that was built a century ago for the climate of the time.

        • Exactly. And I thought most of that average warming was due to night time temps not getting as cold as they used to.

          Just what is the sensitivity of skin to air temperature? Can we really detect 1/2 a degree of difference, if humidity and wind speed are constant?

        • Easy …
          1/2 degree of warming requires a Ton of A/C which in turn requires 50 additional Solar Panels to both power the A/C unit and recharge the battery pack to complete the cooling cycle after the sun sets /sarc

      • Ghalfrump, you seem like the new-troll-on-the-block. Too bad the quality of trolls here, low as it is, has not improved.

  2. Analysis of the data on mortality due to respiratory diseases revealed an average decline in deaths of 16.5% per decade for the colder months compared to relatively stable figures for the warmer months of the year over the 37-year study period.

    So there is NO evidence additional deaths due to hotter summers and warmer winters are saving lives.

    Exactly the opposite of the deceptive headline produced by Urea Alert.

    • Ah, but…

      The authors concluded that the decrease in temperature-attributable mortality during the winter months is driven not by the rising temperatures associated with climate change, but by the adaptation of the population to lower temperatures.

      You see, people can adapt to less cold, but obviously they are utterly unable to adapt to more heat. You just need to understand Climate Scientology ™ better!

      • If the temperature is -40°C then you put more clothes on to keep warm – no problem.
        if the temperature is 50°C and high humidity then taking clothes off will do little good as there is no evaporative cooling of body possible, even fans will have no effect.

        if the temperature is above normal allowable body temperature and 100% humidity then there is natural cooling possible and you ill die

        • What century do you live in? 80 years ago you put on a heavier coat and threw another lump of coal on the fire when it got cold. Today my programmable thermostat turns on the furnace and the fireplace and I don’t need to put on a coat unless I’m going out in my heated car to go to the heated office or heated mall. When I lived in Indonesia I didn’t suffer from extreme heat/humidity, my apartment AC kept us cool and dry, and I’d put on a light coat during the rainy season and go out to my air conditioned car to go to the air conditioned office or air conditioned mall. Central heating and AC have made it possible for millions of people to live in areas that can experience extreme climate. Want to save lives, provide people with low cost electricity, heat and AC.

          https://www.theverge.com/2017/9/14/16290934/india-air-conditioner-cooler-design-climate-change-cept-symphony

        • The problem for you gfront is that the actual data shows that the warming has only been a few tenths of a degree and that most of it has occurred during the winter and at night.

          Even the IPCC has conceded that since CO2 and H2O share most of the same absorption bands, in areas with high humidity, CO2 will have little to no impact. So your scare scenarios aren’t going to happen. Ever.

        • No problem, ghalfrunt?
          At 17 yrs old I worked in a -30 F (near -40C) freezer stocking frozen turkeys. We were allowed 10 minutes before we had to come our. The last 5 minutes were agony – could harfly breathe. The only thing you can do for long at – 40 C is seek a source of heat.

          • When I was in third grade I walk to school in -30 F temps it was about ten blocks. Use to play out in such weather, you white toes hurt when they warmed up.

        • 50 C in high humidity is hard to achieve. Almost impossible on earth, that why deserts are so warm 50 c in dry climates are not common but do happen. Someone who hikes in 40 C heat and enjoys it.

          • Easily achieved in steam baths and wet saunas which, of course, result in the untimely deaths of thousands of Scandinavians annually. /s/

    • I live in Barcelona and can assure you that The City Council, The Catalan government and the Spanish government are full climate change bandwagon alarmist.

      What kills most older people here is poverty especially those who live alone like most women in their 80s. Nobody takes care of them so during a heat wave they don’t drink enough water and eat very little because older people don’t feel thirsty or hungry, undermining their body.

  3. A simpler explanation might be that death rate statistics are skewed by other factors, e.g. changes in wealth, nutrition, and general improvements in health care.

    • yeah I was wondering about the obesity levels of the eldery ladies, would explain them being ok in cold and not so great in hotter weather as well

    • I have been living in Barcelona for 35 years now and my personal experience is that summers are getting colder and Barcelona in winter is warmer than the rest of Catalunya and in summer night time temperatures take longer to go down than outside the city. What really kills in summer is high humidity especially at night when the wind dies down .

      https://www.meteo.cat/observacions/xema

      The Sun also feels stronger the last view years.

      http://www.aemet.es/es/eltiempo/observacion/radiacion/ultravioleta?l=barcelona&f=anual

    • cooling degree-day data from Barcelona over the past 36 months shows no warming trend at all. 20117 and 2019 were both cooler than 2018. Apr-2020 is cooler than Apr-2018 and Apr-2019 so it looks like 2020 will not indicate an increase in temperature either.

      So if there is an impact it has to be from something other than just straight temperature.

    • Yes
      In Spain
      January deaths about 47,000
      September deaths about 30,000
      That looks like cold is worse than warm.
      However things change.
      Here in Melbourne Australia, heat deaths dominated in the late 1800.
      But with the introduction of the sewer system, summer deaths reduced dramatically.
      Since then winter deaths dominate.

      • wore back then?
        ladies wore corsets AND many yard of fabric in long skirts
        even after that it was still a lotmore undergarments trapping heat in and wool and cotton not always that thin on the cotton side either especially for poorer people

    • You have to watch the pea closely. This study is ONLY “respiratory” deaths, no other causes were included.

      “Climate change is associated with numerous health effects. Extreme temperatures, for example, CORRELATE WITH CARDIOVASCULAR AND RESPIRATORY DISEASES.”

      “This study shows that the projected decrease in the number of cold days due to global warming over the coming decades will not contribute to a further reduction in mortality FROM RESPIRATORY DISEASES,” commented Achebak.

      The headline is an outright lie.

      • Yep. the funny thing about the study and how my body works is the exact opposite of what they are saying my asthma is triggered by cold, not heat.

      • Additionally, “respiratory diseases” is a grab bag of many different illnesses. Consider how different asthma, COPD secondary to cigarettes, and infectious pneumonia are from each other. Asthma is becoming more common in many populations and in part is seasonal as allergen levels change. Cigarette smoking, especially in women, rose in many cultures in the last fifty years. TB, which used to be the number one lethal respiratory disease has declined in the last fifty years. TB deaths were more often in the winter, as are most pneumonia deaths.

        Better nutrition, household heating, wide use of antibiotics, all changed in the last fifty years—-decreasing winter deaths in particular. Yet rising obesity also contributes to respiratory deaths, directly with poorer lung function, and indirectly as a cause of diabetes, also a cofactor in respiratory infections (including covid-19). Heat intolerance is an issue for the morbidly obese.

        This study is essentially useless, for many reasons, including this ridiculously imprecise category: respiratory disease.

  4. If you ONLY look at lung problems, the winter deaths have dropped.

    This can be the result of many factors, other than desertification.
    Spain transitioned from Franco’s dictatorship into a democracy. It became part of the Euro zone. The dropped interest rates to Germany’s level created a building boom. The road and rail network was improved. Open borders allowed for more tourism and immigration of rich pensioners. Oh, and tobacco use went down.

    But after Covid-19, the statistics will look different. Depending if it gets counted as extreme weather deaths or a result of increased air travel from China.

  5. The relevant mortality rate in the warmer months has not changed “decline in deaths of 16.5% per decade for the colder months compared to relatively stable figures for the warmer months” but the authors are careful to add “that the decrease in temperature-attributable mortality during the winter months is driven not by the rising temperatures associated with climate change”.
    Naturalmente!
    Incidentally in 2019 Spain had the equal fourth highest household electricity prices in the EU behind Germany, Denmark and Belgium.

    • In real terms electricity in Spain is relatively dearer than implied there as the GDP per cap PPP for Spain is 35,000 USD compared to Germany 46,000 USD, Denmark 48,000 USD, Belgium 43,000 USD and Ireland 70,000 USD (Trading Economics).

  6. I know that for California, trends for maximum daily temperatures have stayed constant for many decades, but the minimum daily temperature trend has risen. This is consistent with this study’s finding of decreased mortality due to cold, but no change in mortality due to warmth. This seems to be evidence of beneficial climate change.

    • Tmax staying the same, and therefore cooling degree days are not changing. Tmin increasing so heating degree days going down. Climate.change is good!

  7. For the last 4 years, the chart of *total* weekly deaths in Spain shows a well-defined peak early in the year. Early in the year is the middle of winter, when it’s cold, not warm. 2020 has another peak, later in the year, due to you-know-what.
    Courtesy of https://www.euromomo.eu/graphs-and-maps/
    Scroll down for the charts.

    • Thanks @simonmcc.

      The excess mortality graphs are interesting.
      Do they imply the impaired immune system due to social distancing Dr. Erickson was talking about in his Interviews?

  8. Of course this finding has nothing to do with the reduction of air pollution.

    In this study, the temporal and spatial scales of the background pollution were characterized during the period between 2001 and 2017, in Madrid (Spain).

    The ratio between the ambient and background concentration was constant for NO2, PM10 and SO2. For NO2 and PM10, the background pollution is on average six times lower and for SO2 is around two times lower than the ambient pollution.

    Link

  9. “Analysis of the data on mortality due to respiratory diseases revealed an average decline in deaths of 16.5% per decade for the colder months compared to relatively stable figures for the warmer months of the year over the 37-year study period. Temperature-attributable deaths from respiratory diseases went from being most frequent in January and December to reaching their peak in July and August.”

    So why does the World Health Organisation’s FluNet global data for laboratory testing of specimens show that in 2019, Spain had 6,384 positive influenza results in January and December but only 16 in July and August?

    The FluNet archives show that in 2010, Spain had 1,051 positive influenza results in January and December and 18 in July and August.

    I know annual flu numbers are erratic but there were 58 times more winter than summer flu positives in 2010, and 488 times more in 2019.

    Since the paper analysed deaths, did all of Spain’s 16 summer flu positives die in 2019 but almost all the 6,348 winter flu positives just have a sniffle?

  10. And by how much has the temperature in Spain actually risen in the last 37 yrs?
    I know people are ‘sensitive’ but that seems to be pushing it a bit don’t you think?

    Best and stay sane,
    Willem

  11. Its amazing how ‘old people ‘ when given the choice pick warmer parts of world to retire to despite it being ‘bad for their health ‘

    Clearly they seem to not understand how important ‘experts ‘ are .

  12. The data is correct — the reports are totally misleading. It is a statistical trick.

    The study uses Attributable Fraction. Total Respiratory Deaths by month. If winter deaths decrease, and summer deaths remain the same, then the percentage of respiratory deaths in the Summer MUST INCREASE.

    There are actually FEWER respiratory deaths overall in Spain. It is the ONLY percentage that is shifting.

    This report is a Public Health success reported as a Climate Change threat.

    Read the paper.

    • Thanks for showing us the trick they used, Kip.

      It’s always something with these human-caused climate change guys. If they didn’t have statistical tricks, they wouldn’t have anything.

  13. Hahahahahahahahahaha!!! I just found out what they did. Of course it is not what the article says. It is better explained in the Nature paper, which you can find here (of course neither the Eurekalert article nor the original article in ISGlobal would provide a link to it, as this is forbidden by current journalistic standards):
    https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-16273-x

    I cite:
    “Results show a very strong reduction in the temperature-attributable fraction (AF) during the coldest months of the year and only a small decrease during the hottest ones, resulting in the redefinition of the seasonality of mortality, with a shift of the maximum monthly AF from winter to summer, and the minimum monthly AF from early and late summer to winter”.

    Did you see the man behind the curtains? It is NOT that deaths are becoming more in summer than in winter. And it is NOT that deaths are becoming less in winter than in summer. Nonono. It is an arbitrarily selected fraction of the total deaths that they decide to call the “temperature-attributable deaths” which is changing.

    Imagine that you have TWICE the number of deaths from respiratory diseases in winter than in summer, and you want to dress that a bit so that it looks like the opposite is true. Easy. You can stablish first that only 1/8th of the deaths in winter are attributable to cold temperatures, but on the other hand, half of the deaths in summer are attributable to heat. And once you have, without any kind of a demonstration, stablished this as your base truth, you can proceed to claim that the “temperature-attributable” deaths in summer are 2 times higher than those in winter. Tadaaa!

  14. Hahahahahaha, wait, this thing of the “attributable fraction” is getting better! I should be replying to my own previous message but it must be waiting in some moderation queue. This figure is from the paper:
    https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-16273-x/figures/4
    Notice the NEGATIVE VALUES that they claim that is becoming the “attributable fraction” of temperatures during the cold months? Amazing huh? They are basically claiming that cold weather in winter is not only not making people die anymore… it is making people with respitatory diseases to COME BACK FROM THE DEATH! It is resurrecting people! Cold is good, hot is bad! Hahahahahaha. These guys have to be clowns. OMG.

  15. We must be the only species in the Universe that is upset over our planet reaching less extreme conditions between winter and summer. You’d think that we’d rejoice that the “happy” collision that created the moon but gave us a tilted axis was starting to lose some of its dramatic impact.

  16. “Women and older adults are the populations most vulnerable to high temperatures”

    Because women outlive men on average, doesn’t it stand to reason that the majority of older adults would be women and therefore more women than men would be affected?

  17. “Analysis of the data on mortality due to respiratory diseases revealed an average decline in deaths of 16.5% per decade for the colder months compared to relatively stable figures for the warmer months of the year over the 37-year study period.”

    So climate change over the past 37 years has not had any noticeable affect on mortality due to respiratory diseases during the warmer months. The data have remained “stable.” But deaths during the colder months have declined 16.5% per decade. This improvement, however, cannot be attributed to climate change. It must be due to something else, like “the adaptation of the population to lower temperatures.” What makes the authors so sure about that? Is it because climate change can only cause things to get worse? No good can ever come from climate change, so when things get worse, it must be due to climate change, but when things improve, it has to be for some other reason. Is that the rule all researchers must follow now?

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