5.5 Communicating weather health risks to at risk groups - a public health challenge

Tuesday, 25 January 2011: 4:30 PM
4C-2 (Washington State Convention Center)
Patrick Sachon, UK Met Office, Exeter, United Kingdom; and W. Elliott

The weather has a significant effect on public health. The major risks are posed by periods of very hot or very cold weather, which lead to significant increases in mortality and morbidity. For example, each winter in the UK there are around 25-30,000 excess deaths, a major heat wave in the UK in 2003 accounted for an extra 2,000 deaths.

There are a large number of other weather related public health problems, such as the effects of weather and air quality on respiratory illness, the increased risk of skin cancer as a result of exposure to high levels of UV and the effect of low levels of sunlight in the winter months on people with seasonal depression.

Despite these significant impacts communicating the nature of risk to vulnerable individuals in a timely manner is a major challenge, one which needs to be tackled in order that the public health effects of the weather can be mitigated.

There are a number of issues which contribute to this broad scale communication problem. These include:

- understanding how to target individuals effectively; mass communication methods often lead to everyone knowing about the risk but no one knowing that they are at risk

- countering a lack of awareness of weather related public health risks amongst healthcare professionals and their lack of appetite for taking responsibility for tackling the problem

- persuading individuals that the weather poses a risk to their health.

- providing individuals at risk with easily understood information or action plans on what to do at times of increased weather health risk

This talk will cover work done by the Met Office in the UK, on a number of weather related public health problems, from cold weather and hot weather to the UV index and bespoke services for people with specific conditions, such as COPD. The talk will cover a review of what has been tried to date, highlight successes, explain the problems encountered and detail the challenges for the future.

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