Excess winter deaths in Europe: a multi-country descriptive analysis

Eur J Public Health. 2015 Apr;25(2):339-45. doi: 10.1093/eurpub/cku073. Epub 2014 Jun 11.


Background: Winter deaths are a known health and social care challenge for many countries. A previous international comparison showed significant differences in excess winter deaths across Europe in the 1990s, with the northern countries having lower excess winter mortality than those in southern Europe.

Methods: The Excess Winter Deaths Index (EWDI) is the ratio of deaths in the winter period (December to March) compared with deaths in the non-winter period. Data from the Eurostat database and national registries were used to calculate the EWDI for 31 countries in Europe across the time period 2002/2003 to 2010/2011.

Results: National EWDI values show heterogeneity, with a broad pattern of increasing EWDI values from northern to southern Europe and increasing mean winter temperature (r(2) = 0.50, P > 0.0001). Malta, Portugal, Spain, Cyprus and Belgium all had an EWDI that was statistically significantly higher than the average EWDI for the other 30 European countries. There was no clear association between country-level EWDI and the level of inter-annual variability in winter temperature across Europe.

Discussion: This article demonstrates the differences in EWDI that exist between European countries with implications for both research and policy. Many deaths may be avoidable as environmental, social and personal factors are known to contribute to winter mortality. We now need to work to better understand the causes of inter-country differences.

MeSH terms

  • Europe / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Internationality
  • Mortality*
  • Registries
  • Risk Factors
  • Seasons*
  • Temperature