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Young adults have a greater risk of extreme heat exposure

A new study used anonymous data from nearly 3,000 US counties to examine the correlation between extreme heat and visits to the hospital emergency department for heat-related illness. The study specifically examined emergency department visits to people’s ages, something rarely looked at for younger and middle aged people. 

Study senior author Dr. Gregory Wellenius is a professor at Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH).

“Many illnesses that lead to utilization of the emergency department do not lead to hospitalization because they can be treated in a short amount of time, particularly among the younger adult population,” explained Dr. Wellenius.

“By looking at emergency room visits, we aimed to obtain a more comprehensive picture of the true burden of disease that might be attributed to the days of high heat.”

The difference in visits to the emergency department may have more to do with lifestyle differences between the young and older people than with physiological differences.

“Younger adults may be at greater risk of exposure to extreme heat, particularly among workers that spend substantial time outdoors,” said Dr. Shengzhi Sun. “Younger adults may also not realize that they too can be at risk on days of extreme heat.”

The study also showed that unusual highs for usually cooler regions are especially dangerous, something likely to increase with continued climate change.

“While extreme heat threatens everyone’s health, this study provides further evidence that it is especially dangerous in regions with cooler climates that may be less adapted to heat,” said . Dr. Kate Weinberger. 

“As temperatures continue to rise due to climate change, the implementation of heat adaptation measures in these regions will be critically important.”

“Although climate change is a global problem and heat threatens the health of everybody across the world, the impacts are felt locally, and the solutions have to be tailored to local needs,” said Dr. Wellenius.

“What works for heat wave preparedness in the Pacific Northwest is really different from what works in the southeastern US, so the solutions have to be localized to accommodate the needs of the local community.”

The study is published in the British Medical Journal.

By Zach Fitzner, Staff Writer

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