Social Risk Factors for Heat Wave Mortality Among the Elderly

Published December 20, 2011 · Estimated reading time: 16 minutes · Share your thoughts
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Social Risk Factors for Heat Wave Mortality Among the Elderly: A case study of the 2003 heat wave in Paris, France

By Marzieh Ghiasi (Dec 2011)

Heat waves are a phenomenon whereby unusually high temperatures persist over a region for days or weeks. Heat waves can have health consequences for populations and often lead to increases in mortality within exposed populations. However, unlike other natural disasters, heat waves are a silent killer even though they have been found to kill the most in developed countries as they largely affect certain vulnerable segments of the population. As global warming progresses in this century, heat waves and other extreme weather phenomena have been predicted to increase in frequency and intensity. The first step to avoiding adverse health outcomes adequately is to address how heat waves affect populations.  In this paper I examine the 2003 heat wave in France which killed nearly 15,000 individuals, a large portion of whom were the elderly. I look at explanations for the high rates of mortality, observed, particularly in Paris by looking at the physical basis, health factors, and sociological dynamics that determine who dies during a heat wave. I argue that four specific social risk factors aggravated death among the elderly in Paris, namely gender, social isolation, socioeconomic status and the paradox of vulnerability. Taking steps to reduce the impact of these factors will be an important step in reducing casualties in future heat waves.

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