Extreme heat said to affect young and middle-aged adults more than elderly

Researchers have shown through a new study that extreme heat may affect young and middle-aged adults more than elderly.

With days of extreme heat expected to become more frequent, more intense, and longer-lasting, scientists have looked into what it could mean for the population. The new study by researchers at Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) shows that complications from extreme heat appear to be more pronounced among young and middle-aged US adults than older adults. Findings are published in The British Medical Journal.

The study looked at the association between extreme temperatures and visits to the emergency department (ED), and found that days of extreme heat were associated with a higher risk of ED visits for any cause, heat-related illness, renal disease, and mental disorders among all adults, but the strongest association was among adults ages 18-64.

Previous studies on the health impacts of heat have focused primarily on mortality or hospital admissions among seniors. This study is the first national-scale assessment of the effects of extreme heat on adults of all ages, as well as the first national study to consider ED visits as a marker of adverse impacts of heat on all adults.

Researchers analyzed anonymous healthcare utilization claims data to quantify the risk of ED visits for any cause and for specific conditions potentially associated with increasing temperatures during the warm season (between May and September) in almost 3,000 US counties from 2010 to 2019.

For the study, the researchers analyzed claims data among 74 million adults, including more than 22 million ED visits. They found that days of extreme heat (varying by location, but averaging about 93 degrees Fahrenheit), were associated with a 66 percent increased risk of ED visits for heat-related illness, as well as a 30 percent increased risk for renal disease, compared to ED visits on cooler days. But the risk associated with extreme heat varied by age. A day of extreme heat was associated a 10.3 percent higher risk of ED visits among people ages 45 to 54 years old, compared to a 3.6 percent higher risk among those older than 75.

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