Aging Population To Be Major Driver of Future Climate-related Deaths

As the world grapples with the challenges of climate change, a new study from the Yale School of Public Health (YSPH) highlights another pressing issue: the impact of an aging population on temperature-related deaths. The study, published in Nature Communications, reveals that the proportion of the world’s population aged 65 and older is expected to rise from 9% to 16% by 2050, and this demographic shift will likely lead to a substantial increase in both heat- and cold-related deaths.

The researchers found that at 1.5°C, 2°C, and 3°C of global warming, heat-related deaths across 800 locations in 50 countries will increase by 0.5%, 1.0%, and 2.5%, respectively. Remarkably, one-in-five to one-in-four of these heat-related deaths can be attributed to population aging. Although cold-related mortality is projected to decrease due to a warming climate, the study suggests that an aging population, which is vulnerable to both hot and cold temperatures, will likely counteract this trend, resulting in a net increase in cold-related deaths by 0.1% to 0.4%.

“Our findings indicate that population aging constitutes a crucial driver for future heat- and cold-related deaths, with an increasing mortality burden for both heat and cold due to the aging population,” said Kai Chen, PhD, the study’s first author and an assistant professor of epidemiology (environmental health sciences) at YSPH.

The study’s findings are based on a dataset of more than 83 million deaths among populations from 50 countries/areas across five continents. The researchers assessed the vulnerability of each population through localized temperature-mortality associations and used advanced computational approaches to account for uncertainty in both temperature-mortality relationships and variability across global climate models.

“Our findings strongly underline and support the need to account for a significant shift in the number of older individuals who will die from either cold or heat globally, regardless of whether we see large or small changes in climate. Without acknowledging the shifting population and the increasing number of people exposed to non-optimal temperatures, both heat and cold, the ability to address the health impacts of temperature extremes will be hindered,” the authors wrote in the study.

The study’s authors emphasize the need for ambitious climate mitigation actions to keep global warming within 1.5°C and targeted, efficient climate adaptation measures to prevent temperature-related health impacts under the dual threats of climate change and population aging.

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