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Prof. Dr. Annette Peters
Helmholtz Munich | Matthias Tung

Did you know? Long-Term Health Studies Show Effects of Heat with Evidence

Knowledge bites about how to protect yourself better against heat:
Interview with Prof. Annette Peters, Director of the Institute of Epidemiology

Knowledge bites abouthow to protect yourself better against heat:
Interview with Prof. Annette Peters, Director of the Institute of Epidemiology

Climate change mitigation and the improvement of air quality in Europe are crucial measures that go hand in hand and will enhance public health from birth to old age today and in the coming decades.

Prof. Annette Peters, Director of the Institute of Epidemiology, Helmholtz Munich

Prof. Annette Peters considers it her obligation to present connections between environmental factors and health driven by climate change and advise decision-makers to preserve health of future generations.

How do rising temperatures impact our health?

AP: Rising temperatures result in hotter days and hotter nights. Everybody may feel discomfort, sleep less well, and may encounter physical and mental impacts. But there are severe impacts in vulnerable individuals: Heat triggers myocardial infarctions and stroke and is linked to increased risks of cardiovascular and respiratory disease mortality.

Rising temperatures alter ecosystems. Allergic plants may bloom earlier and longer affecting individuals with the allergy, in particular hay fever.

Another aspect are tropical diseases: Warmer temperatures allow animals from warmer regions to settle here – including insects, which transmit malaria or dengue fever, for example.

Rising temperatures increase the risk of forest fires releasing fine particulate matter air pollution and promote the formation of secondary air pollutants such as ozone. Air pollution in combination with heat jointly augment the risk for cardiovascular and respiratory disease mortality.

What is the power of long-term health studies?

AP: The power of long-term health studies is that they can show with data how environmental changes with short-time fluctuations, but long-term trends are affecting health.
Concerning heat, we have clear and robust evidence that since the turn of the century, heat is impacting health and this phenomena is increasing through climate change – even though Germany has a temperate climate.

What is a cohort study? 

A cohort study follows defined groups of people over time. The purpose of a cohort study is to observe the development of diseases over time and to determine the role of risk and protection factors responsible for disease onset and progression.
Thereby, it advances early detection of disease, allows to derive prevention approaches and contributes to improving therapies.

How can we improve health protection against heat?

AP: Measures to improve protection against heat are threefold:

  1. Heat health action plans provide local institutional measures to protect the population.
  2. Individual measures such as drinking water, cooling living quarters, dressing adequately, and avoiding exercise during peak temperatures support the adaptation of vulnerable populations such as small children, persons with chronic diseases and aged individuals.
  3. Altering energy consumption, decarbonizing energy generation, mitigation air pollution, and measures to abate heat islands jointly reduce the burden of heat and air pollution on health with immediate as well as mid-term perspectives.

KORA and NAKO: Treasure trove of science

KORA and NAKO health studies allow long-term statements about the impact of climate change on health. In these studies scientists have recorded data on cardiovascular health among 18,000 women and men since the mid-1980s. The data show they that the negative effects of particulate matter increase as the outside temperature rises. As part of the NAKO health study, scientists across Germany have collected health data from 205,000 people since 2014, and have frozen blood and urine samples in the Helmholtz Munich biorepository at minus 80 to minus 180 degrees Celsius - a treasure trove of data. Through this data, it was for example possible, to clearly prove that allergies nowadays occur more frequently and at an earlier point in life.

Prof. Annette Peters

Prof. Annette Peters pioneered work identifying the link between ambient particulate matter and cardiovascular disease. With large-scale prospective population-based cohort studies she investigates how genetic, environmental and behavioral risk factors jointly shape health and disease. Her training in epidemiology, biology and mathematics allows an interdisciplinary approach spanning from environmental health to molecular epidemiology.

Latest update: June 2024