Nationwide Analysis of the Heat- and Cold-Related Mortality Trends in Switzerland between 1969 and 2017: The Role of Population Aging

Environ Health Perspect. 2022 Mar;130(3):37001. doi: 10.1289/EHP9835. Epub 2022 Mar 9.


Background: Because older adults are particularly vulnerable to nonoptimal temperatures, it is expected that the progressive population aging will amplify the health burden attributable to heat and cold due to climate change in future decades. However, limited evidence exists on the contribution of population aging on historical temperature-mortality trends.

Objectives: We aimed to a) assess trends in heat- and cold-related mortality in Switzerland between 1969 and 2017 and b) to quantify the contribution of population aging to the observed patterns.

Methods: We collected daily time series of all-cause mortality by age group (<65, 65-79, and 80 y and older) and mean temperature for each Swiss municipality (1969-2017). We performed a two-stage time-series analysis with distributed lag nonlinear models and multivariate longitudinal meta-regression to obtain temperature-mortality associations by canton, decade, and age group. We then calculated the corresponding excess mortality attributable to nonoptimal temperatures and compared it to the estimates obtained in a hypothetical scenario of no population aging.

Results: Between 1969 and 2017, heat- and cold-related mortality represented 0.28% [95% confidence interval (CI): 0.18, 0.37] and 8.91% (95% CI: 7.46, 10.21) of total mortality, which corresponded to 2.4 and 77 deaths per 100,000 people annually, respectively. Although mortality rates for heat slightly increased over time, annual number of deaths substantially raised up from 74 (12;125) to 181 (39;307) between 1969-78 and 2009-17, mostly driven by the 80-y-old age group. Cold-related mortality rates decreased across all ages, but annual cold-related deaths still increased among the 80, due to the increase in the population at risk. We estimated that heat- and cold-related deaths would have been 52.7% and 44.6% lower, respectively, in the most recent decade in the absence of population aging.

Discussion: Our findings suggest that a substantial proportion of historical temperature-related impacts can be attributed to population aging. We found that population aging has attenuated the decrease in cold-related mortality and amplified heat-related mortality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging
  • Climate Change
  • Cold Temperature*
  • Hot Temperature*
  • Humans
  • Mortality
  • Switzerland / epidemiology