CLIMATE CHANGE AND HEALTH
Heat waves cause more deaths and hospitalizations in the U.S. than any other weather-related disaster. As temperatures rise, FSPH’s Dr. David Eisenman is among the experts studying solutions.
AS AN EXPERT IN DISASTER PREPAREDNESS AND RESPONSE whose work has increasingly focused on the weather events that are occurring with growing intensity and frequency as the climate changes, Dr. David Eisenman has observed that one type of natural disaster is often overlooked. “Heat waves don’t make the news in the same way as hurricanes, earthquakes and floods, but heat is already the leading weather-related cause of death in the United States, and with climate change it will only grow as a concern,” says Eisenman (MS ’02), professor in residence in the Fielding School’s Department of Community Health Sciences and director of the FSPH-based Center for Public Health and Disasters. “It’s also an equity issue, because the most vulnerable members of our society tend to be the ones who are at the greatest risk.” In addition to his work as a practicing physician, Eisenman conducts research to better understand who is most vulnerable to heat illness and death, in part by examining health outcomes data in conjunction with historical weather data. Populations that are most susceptible include the elderly, young children, people with chronic diseases and individuals who are homeless or otherwise impoverished. In Los Angeles, as in many other cities in the U.S., more than half of households lack central air conditioning, and low-income families are the most likely to be forced to endure high temperatures with a wall unit at best, Eisenman says. He and his colleagues (including Linda Delp and Kevin Riley of the Fielding School-based UCLA Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program) have described another population vulnerable to extreme heat, outdoor laborers — finding, for example, that every 1-percent increase in residents
U C L A F I E L D I N G S C H O O L O F P U B L I C H E A LT H M AG A Z I N E
who work in construction within a community results in an 8-percent rise in heat-related hospitalizations and emergency department visits. “It’s clear that we need to be thinking about this problem both in the workplace and in the community,” Eisenman says. “We also have to keep in mind that many of these workers come home to neighborhoods with little shade and no air conditioning, so they aren’t able to cool off.” For people without access to air conditioning at home or work, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends cooled public facilities such as shopping malls and libraries during heat waves. Eisenman’s group, including Stephanie Pincetl of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, has found that in extreme temperatures, heat-related deaths are lower in neighborhoods with more publicly accessible cooled spaces. Many cities have also established cooling centers as refuges, but Eisenman notes that these tend to be inaccessible to the peo-