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Health Risks Linked to Climate Change Are Getting Worse, Experts Warn

Climate change continues to have a worsening effect on health and mortality around the world, according to an exhaustive report published on Tuesday by an international team of 114 researchers.

One of the starkest findings is that heat-related deaths of people older than 65 have increased by 85 percent since the 1990s, according to modeling that incorporates both changing temperatures and demographics. People in this age group, along with babies, are especially vulnerable to health risks like heat stroke. As global temperatures have risen, older people and infants now are exposed to twice the number of heat-wave days annually as they were from 1986 to 2005.

The report, published in the medical journal The Lancet, also tracked estimated lost income and food insecurity. Globally, exposure to extreme heat, and resulting losses in productivity or inability to work, may have led to income losses as high as $863 billion in 2022. And, in 2021, an estimated 127 million more people experienced moderate or severe food insecurity linked to heat waves and droughts, compared with 1981-2010.

“We’ve lost very precious years of climate action and that has come at an enormous health cost,” said Marina Romanello, a researcher at University College London and the executive director of the report, known as The Lancet Countdown. “The loss of life, the impact that people experience, is irreversible.”

The indicators of public health tracked in the report have generally declined over the nine years the researchers have produced editions of the assessment.

The analysis also examined health outcomes for individual countries, including the United States. Heat-related deaths of adults 65 and older increased by 88 percent between 2018 and 2022, compared with 2000-04. An estimated 23,200 older Americans died in 2022 because of exposure to extreme heat.

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