In Finland, the connection between hot weather and serious health problems is clear.
Helsingin Sanomat in the editorial (2.6.) was raisedthat cold weather causes considerably more health problems in Finland than hot weather. In addition, it was stated that global warming will not increase mortality in Finland, because although mortality related to hot weather will increase, cold mortality will decrease at the same time.
In the editorial the findings presented are correct. However, the conclusion based on them that the effects of heat are not a big problem in Finland is questionable. In addition, the idea that a reduction in cold harm would compensate for heat harm is unsustainable and ethically questionable from a health protection perspective.
In Finland, the connection between hot weather and serious health problems is clear. The risk of mortality increases sharply when the average daily temperature exceeds about 20 degrees.
During heat waves, the effects can become remarkably large in a relatively short period of time. For example, in the summer of 2018, a heat wave that lasted a few weeks is estimated to have resulted in nearly 400 premature deaths.
Thus, the health effects of hot weather cannot be considered a small problem. As a result of climate change and an aging population, the effects are also likely to increase sharply if there is insufficient preparedness for change.
During heat waves, mortality among the elderly and the chronically ill increases in both health and social care facilities and homes. In addition to the unfamiliarity of the population, the fact that our buildings, which are designed for cold climates, are easily heated by heat, has a strong effect on the background of the health problems.
Hell however, serious adverse effects can be prevented by instructing and caring for the population, especially vulnerable groups, by adequately preparing for heat waves in social and health care, and by combating overheating of care facilities and housing through construction and zoning control and increased cooling.
Efforts should also be made to prevent the health effects of cold weather, for example by instructing on how to dress and behave in the cold and how social and health care can contribute to combating health risks.
However, the link between cold and health harms is more complex than heat, and the contributing factors are partly unclear. Harm prevention is also challenging, as most of the effects are caused by relatively mild cold weather during the long winter, and the control of harm in Finland does not involve as clear aspects of society’s infrastructure and activities as heat.
Reducing the health effects of the cold is one of the few positive effects of climate change. This, combined with adequate prudence, could lead to significant public health benefits in the future.
researcher, Department of Health and Welfare
Professor, University of Eastern Finland and Department of Health and Welfare
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