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Who's Dying in the Current Heat Wave?

MORE UPDATES - Heat waves kill the elderly, both here and in the rest of the world. Sociologists have discovered that?in the US at least?severe heat waves kill more people in neighborhoods where there are few inviting businesses to draw older people out of their overheated apartments into an air conditioned environment. According to a new government study, one of the main problems is that it no longer cools off much at night.

Nearly 800 people in Chicago, mostly elderly folks livingalone, died during one week in the midst of a July 1995 heat wave. During several days that week, the temperature was over 100, with a heat index on July 13 of 126. A study of the heat wave showed higher-than-average mortality rates in areas where businesses were run-down, and dominated by liquor stores and bars. Researcher Christopher Browning says, "The neighborhoods with the highest mortality rates were less likely to have stores or other businesses where older people felt comfortable going to, even in the worst heat. They stayed bunkered in their apartments where they were most at risk for heat-related illnesses that led to death."

Sociologist Kathleen Cagney adds, "Previous research has focused on the lack of city services or the lack of neighbors checking on neighbors. Both are important, but our research indicates that the neighborhood infrastructure itself could be implicated."

Factors that are often linked to low-income neighborhoods ? such as higher crime and murder rates, more fear of crime, visible signs of disorder such as graffiti ? did not show as strong a link to heat wave mortality as did the condition and type of businesses in the neighborhoods.

"These neighborhoods were in commercial decline," Browning says. "A lot of the businesses were boarded-up, or in poor condition. Those that were left were bars and liquor stores, or youth-oriented places that would not attract elderly customers. These businesses didn't promote an environment where people felt comfortable walking around, and older people were probably fearful to walk into some of these places."

But the study showed that these neighborhoods in commercial decline were NOT linked to higher mortality rates during July in other years?this only happened during the heat wave of 1995. Browning says, "?It was probably good for their safety that elderly residents avoided being out in these neighborhoods, They learned to adapt to conditions in which they spent a lot of time in their apartments, but during a heat wave this left them vulnerable."

The answer may be senior drop-in centers that are close by and AIR CONDITIONED.

UPDATE: If you think it?s hotter than it used to be?even at night, when it?s supposed to cool off?government records say you?re right: a new study shows that in recent years, there have been THREE TIMES more super hot nights than there used to be. One reason for so many heat-related deaths is that our bodies usually get a chance to cool off at night, but this can?t happen when temperatures don?t drop enough, as has been the case recently.

The current trend as been predicted for the last 20 years. Msnbc.com quotes NOAA meteorologist Jerry Mahlman as saying [about global warming], "The smoking gun is still smoking; it?s not shooting people yet." But the site quotes another meteorologist as saying he "almost fell out of my chair" when he saw the new data, since they prove that global warming is happening right now.

MORE UPDATES: Yahoo news reports that Conservative Christianbroadcaster Pat Robertson says that the current heat wavehas finally made him realize that global warming is real. Inthe past, he has blamed events like hurricane Katrina onBiblical apocalypse. Since Robertson is 76 years old, he hasgood reason to worry.

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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