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Living among old buildings without green areas increases the risk of death during heat waves

In areas with few green areas, old buildings and manual labor workers mortality bend is reached.

Monday, July 15th, 2013

Living among old buildings without green areas increases the risk of death during heat waves

Source: Agencia SINC / Madrid/Barcelona, July 15th 2013. Picture: SINC.

A study with the participation of researchers from CREAL, from the ISGlobal alliance, has been associated sociodemographic factors and urban with increased mortality during the days of the year with higher temperatures. The risk is doubled in neighborhoods inhabited by manual workers, old buildings, and few parks or gardens. This study has been published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Neighbors of the least green cities with older buildings and inhabited mainly manual workers are more likely to die during a heat wave, according to a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

To do the study, CREAL researchers, from CERCA, analyzed socioeconomic and urban metropolitan area of Barcelona and the geographical distribution of 52,806 deaths in hot seasons between 1999 and 2006 to specify in which areas there are higher risks of mortality during the waves of heat that hit the cities in summer.

"These vulnerability maps can be useful in identifying areas where stress prevention plans", explains Xavier Basagaña, CREAL researcher and one of the study's authors, to SINC.

Among the eight selected sociodemographic variables, five showed no significant relationship with the number of deaths caused by heat. These factors are the percentage of unemployed residents, young people with low educational level, over 65 years of individual chalets and houses without air conditioning.

The study of vulnerability can be useful in identifying areas where stress prevention plans

But it was found a relationship between heat deaths and the proportion of residents employed in manual labor that inhabit the area, the amount of old buildings and the lack of green space as perceived by the neighbors.

Neighborhoods with double risk

For three consecutive days of extreme heat, we observed an increase in the average mortality of 30%, while areas that met the three features (few green areas, old buildings and manual labor workers) and mortality after three consecutive days of heat bend end is reached.

"This is the most surprising of our results, within the same city there are areas with twice vulnerability to heat than others," says Basagaña.

The percentage of residents employed in manual labor was used as the main indicator of the socioeconomic status of the area. The other indicators studied, level of education and unemployment, were less informative because of its relationship with the youth, which is less vulnerable to heat, according to the scientists.

The authors suggest that areas with older buildings can harbor more risk for a worse thermal insulation, and the surprising lack of relationship with the age of the population could reflect that 64 years is an age cutoff too low to notice the effect.

"The urban environment can have an influence on the effects of heat, a fact corroborated by other studies. Improve building insulation is critical to rely less on the use of air conditioning, and a good use of urban vegetation helps to reduce the effect of 'heat islands' in big cities", says the researcher.

However, Basagaña explains that during most of the study period were not yet implemented plans to prevent the effects of heat on health introduced in 2004. "It would be interesting to see if these differences were maintained or decreased after the introduction of the plan", concludes the scientist.


Yihan Xu, Payam Dadvand, Jose Barrera-Gomez, Claudio Sartini, Marc Mari-Dell’Olmo, Carme Borrell, Merce Medina-Ramon, Jordi Sunyer, Xavier Basagaña. “Differences on the Effect of Heat Waves on Mortality by Socio-Demographic and Urban Landscape Characteristics” Journal ofEpidemiology and Community Health, vol. 67 Junio 2013. Doi: 10.1136/jech-2012-201899


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