A study concludes that heat was the cause of more than 70,000 deaths in Europe in 2022, with Italy, Spain and Germany leading the mortality figures. The registry, developed by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), represents an increase of more than 10% compared to the estimates made in July because a more precise methodology is applied.
In the previous study on mortality estimates associated with record temperatures on the European continent, published in Nature Medicine, the same authors used epidemiological models applied to weekly mortality data in 823 regions of 35 European countries. In this way, they determined a premature mortality of 62,862 people in 2022.
However, the same authors recognized that the use of weekly figures caused an underestimation of the greater precision provided by the evaluation of daily data to estimate the impact of warm temperatures on mortality.
The new work, published in The Lancet Regional Health-Europe, consisted of the development of a theoretical framework to quantify the deviations caused by the use of weekly and monthly aggregate data (temperature and mortality series). The research team aggregated the daily series from 147 regions of 16 European countries between 1998 and 2004 and analyzed and compared the estimates of mortality associated with heat and cold by four levels of aggregation.
The results showed that the weekly, biweekly and monthly models underestimate the effects of heat and cold compared to the daily model. Moved to 2022, the new methodological approach indicates that mortality attributed to heat would have been underestimated by 10.28%, which means a total of 70,066 deaths instead of the 62,862 estimated in the previous study.
According to Joan Ballester, a researcher who leads the Early-Adapt project of the European Research Council, the use of monthly data does not allow us to estimate the short-term effects of ambient temperatures in the short term. On the other hand, in cases where daily data are not available, the weekly series “offer sufficient precision in mortality estimates to be used in real-time practice in epidemiological surveillance and the generation of public policies.” such as emergency plants in the face of heat and cold waves.
The country that registered the greatest increase in temperature in the summer of 2022 was France, with 2.43ºC above the average for the period 1991-2020, followed by Switzerland (2.30ºC), Italy (2.28ºC), Hungary (2.13ºC ) and Spain ( 2.11ºC).
To date, the summer that had recorded the highest mortality in Europe (about 70,000 deaths) had been that of 2003, and the phenomenon revealed the lack of prevention plans and the fragility of health systems to face the weather-related emergencies.
But in 2022 we were already warned and many countries had active prevention plans, but, according to specialists, the high number of deaths suggests that these plans are still insufficient.
The EU-funded Early-Adapt project argues that societies are beginning to adapt to climate change, but the effectiveness of early adaptation is heterogeneous, both within and between European societies. Their studies aim to help detect, understand and quantify inequalities in adaptation.