Modification of Heat-Related Mortality in an Elderly Urban Population by Vegetation (Urban Green) and Proximity to Water (Urban Blue): Evidence From Lisbon, Portugal

Environ Health Perspect. 2016 Jul;124(7):927-34. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1409529. Epub 2015 Nov 13.


Background: Urban populations are highly vulnerable to the adverse effects of heat, with heat-related mortality showing intra-urban variations that are likely due to differences in urban characteristics and socioeconomic status.

Objectives: We investigated the influence of urban green and urban blue, that is, urban vegetation and water bodies, on heat-related excess mortality in the elderly > 65 years old in Lisbon, Portugal, between 1998 and 2008.

Methods: We used remotely sensed data and geographic information to determine the amount of urban vegetation and the distance to bodies of water (the Atlantic Ocean and the Tagus Estuary). Poisson generalized additive models were fitted, allowing for the interaction between equivalent temperature [universal thermal climate index (UTCI)] and quartiles of urban greenness [classified using the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI)] and proximity to water (≤ 4 km vs. > 4 km), while adjusting for potential confounders.

Results: The association between mortality and a 1°C increase in UTCI above the 99th percentile (24.8°C) was stronger for areas in the lowest NDVI quartile (14.7% higher; 95% CI: 1.9, 17.5%) than for areas in the highest quartile (3.0%; 95% CI: 2.0, 4.0%). In areas > 4 km from water, a 1°C increase in UTCI above the 99th percentile was associated with a 7.1% increase in mortality (95% CI: 6.2, 8.1%), whereas in areas ≤ 4 km from water, the estimated increase in mortality was only 2.1% (95% CI: 1.2, 3.0%).

Conclusions: Urban green and blue appeared to have a mitigating effect on heat-related mortality in the elderly population in Lisbon. Increasing the amount of vegetation may be a good strategy to counteract the adverse effects of heat in urban areas. Our findings also suggest potential benefits of urban blue that may be present several kilometers from a body of water.

Citation: Burkart K, Meier F, Schneider A, Breitner S, Canário P, Alcoforado MJ, Scherer D, Endlicher W. 2016. Modification of heat-related mortality in an elderly urban population by vegetation (urban green) and proximity to water (urban blue): evidence from Lisbon, Portugal. Environ Health Perspect 124:927-934;

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Environmental Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Geographic Information Systems
  • Hot Temperature*
  • Humans
  • Mortality / trends*
  • Portugal / epidemiology
  • Remote Sensing Technology
  • Urban Population / trends
  • Water Supply / statistics & numerical data