Heat Index Burden for Older Populations in the Contiguous United States - The Case for an Age-Specific Analysis

Authors: Emily Serman*, University of Southern California, Kate Vavra-Musser, University of Southern California, Rachel Wilke, University of Southern California , Jennifer Ailshire, University of Southern California
Topics: Hazards and Vulnerability, United States
Keywords: Aging, Climate change, United States
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 7
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The United States is facing shifts in both population and climate that will likely have major consequences for population health in the years to come. Older populations, aged 65+, experience greater vulnerability to heat due to a variety of biological and social factors and suffer higher morbidity and mortality burdens during extreme heat events. The purpose of our analysis is to quantify the heat-related burden experienced by the 65+ population in the United States and highlight where this increase is most significant. We used high-resolution climate and population data to calculate heat-related burden, defined as the annual estimated number of person-days of exposure to potentially hazardous climatic conditions, at the census tract level throughout the contiguous United States between 1979 and 2018.

Our findings suggest that this burden has increased in many areas of the United States as older populations increase and hazardous climate conditions become more common. The areas which have seen some of the most striking increases include major metropolitan areas in the southern United States in states characterized by large older populations, most notably Florida, Texas, and Arizona. For many cities, suburban regions saw greater increases in burden while their corresponding urban centers saw decreases, reflecting a shift in the older population density along the urban-suburban continuum. The results of this work have significant implications for initiatives aimed at reducing heat exposure and heat-related health risk for older populations and highlight the importance of considering local-scale spatial variability when considering population heat burden.

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