Cold--an underrated risk factor for health

Environ Res. 2003 May;92(1):8-13. doi: 10.1016/s0013-9351(02)00009-9.


Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) are responsible for around 20% of all deaths worldwide (approximately 14 million) and are the principal cause of death in all developed countries, accounting for 50% of all deaths. Variations in the annual per capita death rates in different countries are well documented. Less well known are seasonal variations in death rates, with the highest levels occurring during the colder winter months, which have been described in many countries. This phenomenon is referred to as excess winter mortality. CVD-related deaths account for the majority of excess winter deaths (up to 70% in some countries), while about half of the remaining are due to increases in respiratory diseases. Paradoxically, CVD mortality increases to a greater extent with a given fall in temperature in regions with warm winters. While much of the indirect evidence points to the notion that cold is somehow involved in explaining excess winter deaths, the mechanism by which seemingly mild exposure to cold ambient conditions can increase the risk of death remains unclear. The strong indirect epidemiological evidence coupling cold climate to mortality may be related to indoor rather than outdoor climatic conditions (e.g., cold/damp houses versus warm/dry houses) coupled with a plethora of factors including health status, ageing-related deterioration in physiological and behavioral thermoregulation, toxicology, and socioeconomic factors.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Body Temperature Regulation
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / mortality*
  • Climate
  • Cold Temperature / adverse effects*
  • Epidemiologic Studies
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Housing
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Seasons