Press Releases

2006 Releases

Extreme Heat: Who is Most Likely to Die

For immediate release: August 03, 2006  

Boston, MA--Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) have recently co-authored a study that aimed to identify if certain population groups were more susceptible to dying from extreme temperatures. The authors, led by Mercedes Medina-Ramón, research fellow (lead author) and Joel Schwartz, professor (senior author), both in HSPH’s department of environmental health, also examined whether certain chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, played a role in susceptibility and which mortality causes experience the largest relative increases on days with extreme temperatures. The survey data included 7,789,655 deaths across 50 U.S. cities from 1989 to 2000 and daily temperatures in those cities. This is the first large-scale study to examine how susceptibility of certain populations to extreme temperatures varies according to the cause of death.

The results suggest that public health professionals should pay particular attention to the elderly, diabetics and African Americans on days with extreme heat, such as during the current heat wave sweeping across much of the U.S.

African Americans were more susceptible to extreme heat in the case of cardiovascular-related death; diabetics were more susceptible when non-cardiovascular causes were involved.

The paper, “Extreme Temperatures and Mortality: Assessing Effect Modification by Personal Characteristics and Specific Cause of Death in a Multi-City Case-Only Analysis,” is available free in the current online Environmental Health Perspectives. (Environ Health Perspect 2006; 114: 1331-6)


To interview Medina-Ramón, please contact:

Todd Datz

(617) 432-3952