Are Americans Adapting to Heat?
Harvard scientists observe no correlation between heat waves and death.
According to the National Weather Service, heat is the most fatal form of extreme weather in the United States. Furthermore, 2018 has been a year of record-setting heat across the country. Because of this, it would make perfect sense that the number heat-related deaths would be high this year. However, it turns out that this is not actually the case. The big question here is, why?
By researching the link between heatwaves and death from 1987 to 2005, a team of Harvard scientists determined that the risk of heat-related fatalities has notably decreased over time. The scientists concluded that the "population has become more resilient to heat over time..." but didn’t explain how. It is quite possible that this is simply because more Americans have air-conditioned homes and are making a better effort to stay hydrated. It is also possible that public safety messages have become more prevalent and compelling, and are thereby saving more lives.
So although heat-related deaths are on the decline, the CDC still reports an average of 658 deaths a year due to heatstroke. According to Jeremy Hess, a medical doctor and heat-illness researcher at the University of Washington, heatstroke is especially common amongst young children and the elderly, and in rural areas where there is less access to air conditioning and more exposure to heat. His research also demonstrates that low-income populations are more likely to suffer from heat-related illness. Men and boys are also more prone to heat-related illness than women and girls.
"Of all emergency room visits for exertional heat injury, more than a third of them in the United States are in teenage male athletes," -- Dr. Samantha Ahdoot, pediatrician and climate adviser to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Because research indicates that heat-related illness is most common within specific groups (e.g. those in low income or rural areas, athletes who practice outdoors, the elderly, etc.), it’s actually easier to direct aid to the proper locations in times of severe heat. Extreme weather doesn’t need to be fatal if we have the proper tools and information to protect ourselves and others. Therefore, it’s vital that we continue to look to data to guide us to the people who need the most help during natural disasters.