Climate change unlikely to reduce UK's excess winter death rate, study reports

New research published today has found that climate change is unlikely to reduce the UK's excess winter death rate as previously thought.

The study is published in the journal Nature Climate Change and debunks the widely held view that warmer winters will cut the number of deaths normally seen at the coldest time of year.

Analysing data from the past 60 years, researchers at the University of Exeter and University College London (UCL) looked at how the death rate has changed over time, and what factors influenced it.

They found that from 1951 to 1971, the number of cold winter days was strongly linked to death rates, while from 1971 to 1991, both the number of cold days and were responsible for increased death rates. However, their analysis showed that from 1991 to 2011, flu activity alone was the main cause in year to year variation in winter mortality.

Lead researcher Dr Philip Staddon said:

"We've shown that the number of cold days in a winter no longer explains its number of excess deaths. Instead, the main cause of year to year variation in winter mortality in recent decades has been flu."

The team suggest that this reduced link between the number of cold days and deaths in a winter can be explained by improvements in housing, health care, income and a greater awareness of the risks of the cold.

As climate change progresses, the UK is likely to experience increasing weather extremes, including a greater number of less predictable periods of extreme cold. The research highlights that, despite a generally warmer winter, a more volatile climate could actually lead to increased numbers of winter deaths associated with climate change, rather than fewer.

Dr Staddon believes the findings have important implications for policy:

"Both policy makers and health professionals have, for some time, assumed that a potential benefit from climate change will be a reduction in deaths seen over winter. We've shown that this is unlikely to be the case. Efforts to combat winter mortality due to cold spells should not be lessened, and those against flu and flu-like illnesses should also be maintained."

Co-author, Prof Hugh Montgomery of UCL said:

"Climate change appears unlikely to lower winter . Indeed, it may substantially increase them by driving extreme weather events and greater variation in winter temperatures. Action must be taken to prevent this happening."

Co-author, Prof Michael Depledge of University of Exeter Medical School said:

"Studies of the kind we have conducted provide information that is key for policymakers and politicians making plans to manage the impacts of . We're hopeful that the importance of this issue will be understood, so that matters of health and environmental security can be dealt with seriously and effectively."

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Journal information: Nature Climate Change

Citation: Climate change unlikely to reduce UK's excess winter death rate, study reports (2014, February 23) retrieved 18 October 2019 from
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Feb 23, 2014
Evolution "is" fact and smoking "will" cause cancer and comet hits are "inevitable" unlike climate change that science has never agreed beyond; "could" being a crisis. Now you know.

Feb 23, 2014
No mention that the added costs of 'green energy' subsidies raise the price to heat houses results is more poor freezing.

Feb 23, 2014
"Britain's Floods Were Engineered by Green Government Policy"
"But they are distractions from the root cause of the problem. It's a root cause which, if there weren't so much hard evidence for it, you might easily dismiss as a right-wing conspiracy theory. That was certainly the response from the green-liberal-left when I wrote my book which exposed the scandal, Watermelons."

Just as the drought in California is the result of federal water policies, not climate change as BHO asserted.

Feb 23, 2014
Those AGW Chicken Littles' throats, must be sore from swallowing all this crap.

Feb 23, 2014
Perhaps global warming won't save lives but idiotic mitigation programs that send people into energy poverty certainly will lead to needless deaths. It's time the CAGW crowd let us know how many people they're willing to kill off..

Feb 24, 2014
Interesting study about the changing nature of cold-weather related deaths in a wealthy country. One would expect as average GDP per capita rises more people would have resources to combat the cold; however people still get sick because it's still cold enough that they spend more time indoors than in the summer and are susceptible to infectious diseases.

On the other hand, this odd claim keeps getting repeated:

As climate change progresses, the UK is likely to experience increasing weather extremes...

There is no evidence that a warming planet will lead to increased weather extremes. In fact, observations over the 20th century have shown no increase in extreme weather events as documented in IPCC AR5 Chapter 10. Anyone who understands basic meteorology can explain that extreme weather is caused by large differences in regional temperatures. If the planet is warming relatively uniformly, the relative differences in regional temperatures remain unchanged.

Feb 24, 2014
It's not the temperatures OUTSIDE, but the temperatures of the HOUSE due to UNAFFORDABLE heating because of GREEN ENERGY skyrocketing our bills.

Absolutely stupid study that is measuring completely the wrong variables.

I'm also surprised the flu is a main factor considering the NHS in the UK now perform free flu vaccinations for the aged. So which is it. Flu vaccines are killing people off (Im not an anti vaccer) or it's the cold and expensive heating being turned off.

Choose now, those are your two options. I am sensible and understand science so I'm going into camp cold and can't afford heating, because thinking flu vaccinations increase death count is retarded, which is what this study is saying essentially by saying death rates increased in the years when flu vacs became available.

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