Background: Although many countries experience an increase in mortality during winter, the magnitude of this increase varies considerably, suggesting that some winter excess may be avoidable. Conflicting evidence has been presented on the role of gender, region and deprivation. Little has been published on the magnitude of excess winter mortality (EWM) in New Zealand (NZ) and other Southern Hemisphere countries.
Methods: Monthly mortality rates per 100,000 population were calculated from routinely collected national mortality data for 1980 to 2000. Generalised negative binomial regression models were used to compare mortality rates between winter (June-September) and the warmer months (October-May).
Results: From 1980-2000 around 1600 excess winter deaths occurred each year with winter mortality rates 18% higher than expected from non-winter rates. Patterns of EWM by age group showed the young and the elderly to be particularly vulnerable. After adjusting for all major covariates, the winter:non-winter mortality rate ratio from 1996-2000 in females was 9% higher than in males. Mortality caused by diseases of the circulatory system accounted for 47% of all excess winter deaths from 1996-2000 with mortality from diseases of the respiratory system accounting for 31%. There was no evidence to suggest that patterns of EWM differed by ethnicity, region or local-area based deprivation level. No decline in seasonal mortality was evident over the two decades.
Conclusion: EWM in NZ is substantial and at the upper end of the range observed internationally. Interventions to reduce EWM are important, but the surprising lack of variation in EWM by ethnicity, region and deprivation, provides little guidance for how such mortality can be reduced.