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Excess Winter Mortality in Various Developed Countries and Its Implications for Mitigation Policies

Reference
Falagas, M.E., Karageorgopoulos, D.E., Moraitis, L.I., Vouloumanou, E.K., Roussos, N., Peppas, G., Rafailidis, P.I. 2009. Seasonality of mortality: the September phenomenon in Mediterranean countries. Canadian Medical Association Journal 181: 484-6.
Seasonal increases in the mortality rate have been associated with excessively cold or hot weather. In the present study, the investigators examined monthly patterns of all-cause mortality from 11 developed countries in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, including 5 European Mediterranean countries (Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Spain), one North European country (Sweden), 2 North American countries (United States and Canada), one Asian country (Japan), and 2 countries from the Southern Hemisphere (Australia and New Zealand). They used data for the general population from the earliest to the latest year for which records were available. Data used ranged from two years for Japan to 58 years for Italy.

The results indicate that the winter months have the highest deaths while the fewest deaths occur in the late summer to early Autumn (see Figure 1).


Figure 1: Monthly mortality for various developed countries as a percent of yearly average. Source: Falagas et al. (2009).

A general warming may reduce mortality and extend life expectancies, at least in the temperate and higher latitudes. Based on the data provided in the supplementary information to the Falagas et al. (1010) paper, the average excess winter mortality - based on December, January, February and March in the Northern Hemisphere and June, July, August and September in the Southern Hemisphere - ranges from 300 in Cyprus to 78,000 for the U.S. for the period for which records were obtained.

This paper:
1. Lends support to Deschênes and Moretti (2009) paper which estimates that migration from the Colder Northeast to Southern areas of the U.S.is responsible for 8%-15% of the total gains in life expectancy in the U.S. population from 1970 to 2000.
2. Indicates that the cumulative estimates of extreme winter mortality from the handful of countries in the above table exceed the global number deaths attributed by the World Health Organization to global warming annually (calculated for the year 2000) - 166,000 deaths including 12,000 from climate-change-induced cardiovascular disease - which have been faithfully reproduced in review articles, e.g., in the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report (2007), Nature (Patz et al. 2005), Lancet (2009).
3. Suggests that efforts to reduce global warming may be counterproductive, at least for countries that have temperate or colder climate. Therefore, policies to pursue reduction in anthropogenic climate change should not be put in place until this matter is definitively addressed.

Additional References
Deschênes, O., Moretti, E. 2009. Extreme Weather Events, Mortality, and Migration. The Review of Economics and Statistics (MIT Press). 91(4): 659-681.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Climate change 2007. Impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability, Contribution of working group II to the fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In: Parry ML, Canziani OF, Palutikof JP, van der Linden PJ, eds. Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Lancet and University College London Institute for Global Health Commission. 2009. Managing the health effects of climate change. Lancet 373: 1693-1733.

McMichael, A.J., Campbell-Lendrum ,D., Kovats, S., et al. Global climate change. In Comparative Quantification of Health Risks: Global and Regional Burden of Disease due to Selected Major Risk Factors. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2004:1543-1649.

Patz, J.A., Campbell-Lendrum, D., Holloway, T., Foley, J.A. 2005. Impact of regional climate change on human health. Nature 438: 310-317.

World Health Organization. World Health Report 2002-Statistical Annex. Available at: http://www.who.int/whr/2002/annex/en/index.html. Accessed May 15, 2009.

Archived 12 April 2011