Racial and socioeconomic disparities in heat-related health effects and their mechanisms: a review

Curr Epidemiol Rep. 2014 Sep 1;1(3):165-173. doi: 10.1007/s40471-014-0014-4.


Adaptation to increasing extreme heat in a changing climate requires a precise understanding of who is most vulnerable to the health effects of extreme heat. The evidence for race, ethnicity, income, education and occupation, at the individual and area levels, as indicators of vulnerability is reviewed. The evidence for the social, behavioral and technological mechanisms by which racial and socioeconomic disparities in vulnerability exist is also reviewed. These characteristics include cardiorespiratory, renal and endocrine comorbidities; cognitive, mental or physical disabilities; medication use; housing characteristics; neighborhood characteristics such as urban heat islands, crime and safety; social isolation; and individual behaviors such as air conditioning use, opening windows and using fans and use of cooler public spaces. Pre-existing and future research identifying these more proximal indicators of vulnerability will provide information that is more generalizable across locations and time to aid in identifying who to target for prevention of heat-associated morbidity and mortality.

Keywords: air conditioning; climate change; crime; disparities; education; health; heat; heat wave; housing; impervious surface; income; medication; morbidity; mortality; occupation; race; risk perception; social isolation; sociodemographic; socioeconomic; susceptibility; temperature; urban heat island; vegetation; vulnerability.