UW News

August 20, 2021

With extreme heat increasingly common, UW expert calls for urgent planning to protect health in new Lancet series

UW News

“With more than half of the global population projected to be exposed to weeks of dangerous heat every year by the end of this century, we need to find ways to cool people effectively and sustainably,” says UW’s co-lead author of The Lancet series on heat and health.Ana Guzzo/Flickr

In a new series on increasingly common extreme heat waves and their impact on human health published Thursday in the British medical journal The Lancet, a University of Washington climate change and health expert joined more than a dozen international experts to warn that we better prepare.

“The preventable heat stress and deaths during this summer’s heat waves highlight the importance of developing a regional heat action plan. A heat wave early warning and response plan that includes all relevant services, developed and implemented in collaboration with particularly vulnerable communities, can reduce future illnesses and deaths. Longer-term planning for our cities needs to explicitly incorporate a warmer future with more frequent and intense heat waves. A regional heat action plan should be part of a larger plan to prepare for other climate-related hazards, including wildfires, flooding and drought,” said series co-lead author Kristie Ebi, professor of global health and of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Washington.

Read the full The Lancet news release on this series here.


This graphic provided by The Lancet explores the benefits and limits of different strategies for cooling the person instead of the surrounding air.







This graphic provided by The Lancet highlights recommended sustainable cooling strategies during heat extremes and hot weather for heat vulnerable settings.




Ebi, who is the founding director of the UW’s Center for Health and the Global Environment, and other authors of The Lancet series will discuss their findings and recommendations for public health practice and public policies in a webinar at 6 a.m. PDT Aug. 24..

“Two strategic approaches are needed to combat extreme heat. One is climate change mitigation to reduce carbon emissions and alter the further warming of the planet. The other is identifying timely and effective prevention and response measures, particularly for low-resource settings. With more than half of the global population projected to be exposed to weeks of dangerous heat every year by the end of this century, we need to find ways to cool people effectively and sustainably,” Ebi said in The Lancet news release.

The series’ two main articles — co-led by Ebi and Professor Ollie Jay of the University of Sydney, Australia — cover the health risks of extreme heat and reducing those risks by using personal cooling strategies and changing cities and their built environments.

“It is critical that the personal cooling strategies we recommend in heat-health action plans are based on scientific evidence. After all, having a plan is not enough; it must be the right plan,” Jay told The Lancet. “Too many strategies that are recommended in some existing heat-health action plans seem to be based on conventional wisdom. For example, it is commonly recommended that sugary drinks and high protein meals are avoided, and that fans should not be used, yet studies demonstrate the cooling effectiveness of fans at higher temperatures and other strategies such as self-dousing with water or wearing wet clothing. Early warning systems for extreme heat events, including evidence-based measures to protect vulnerable populations and raising awareness of the health risks posed by heat, will be central to limiting ill health and deaths from heat events, today and in the future.”

In a related study published in The Lancet on Thursday and led by the UW Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation(IHME), more than 356,000 deaths were related to heat in 2019, and more deaths are expected as temperatures continue to rise worldwide, the journal reported.

“Where people live has a major bearing on their risk of exposure to extreme heat and cold. In most regions, cold temperatures have a greater impact on health; however, our analysis finds that the harmful effects of extreme heat can far exceed those caused by cold in places where it is already hot, such as Southern Asia, the Middle East and many parts of Africa. This is very concerning, particularly given that the risk of exposure to high temperatures appears to have been increasing steadily for decades,” Katrin Burkart, assistant professor of Health Metrics Sciences at IHME, told The Lancet.