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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

East Tennessee Documents that Rural Residents May Be More Vulnerable to Heat-Related Mortality than Urban Residents

Dr. Ying Li, assistant professor in the department of environmental health at East Tennessee State University College of Public Health, has authored an article in the Journal of Global Epidemiology and Environmental Health.  The article, “Comparing Urban and Rural Vulnerability to Heat-Related Mortality: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis,” compares the vulnerability to heat-related mortality between rural and urban communities through a systematic review and meta-analysis of existing epidemiological studies.

[Photo: Dr. Ying Li]

Mr. Emmanuel Odame, doctoral student, and Dr. Ken Silver, associate professor in the department of environmental health along with Dr. Shimin Zheng, associate professor in the department of biostatistics and epidemiology, are co-authors.

Studies of the adverse impacts of high temperature on human health have primarily focused on urban areas, due in part to urban centers generally having higher population density and often being warmer than surrounding rural areas (the “urban heat island” effect). As a result, urban areas are often considered to be more vulnerable to summer heat. However, heat vulnerability may not only be determined by heat exposure, alone, but also by other population characteristics such as age, education, income, baseline health status, and social isolation. These factors are likely to increase vulnerability among rural populations compared to urban populations.

The research team analyzed studies that examined the association between high ambient temperature and mortality in both rural and urban settings published between 2000 and 2017. A random-effects meta-analysis of Ratios of Relative Risks (RRR) of heat-related mortality in rural compared to urban areas was performed. The analysis indicated that the rural relative risk is about 3.3 percent larger than the urban relative risk.

These findings suggest that vulnerability to heat-related mortality in rural areas is likely to be similar to or even greater than urban areas. More studies, particularly studies in developing nations, are needed to understand rural vulnerability to heat hazards as a basis for providing better guidance for heat action plans.

The Journal of Global Epidemiology and Environmental Health is an international, peer reviewed, open access, scientific journal publishing original research, review, mini reviews, case reports and studies, short communications, letters, editorials, etc. from all the aspects of disease control, public health and other factors affecting communities as a whole.