ICES launches innovative research program on public health impacts of global climate change

July 21, 2015 Toronto

Ongoing global climate change will carry with it an overall increase in temperature extremes and frequency of extreme weather events. This raises important questions about public health – questions that researchers at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) are preparing to investigate with an innovative new program that combines health data with weather data.

The Western Ambient Temperature and Health Research (WeATHeR) Program recently hosted its planning kick-off meeting at the ICES Western satellite site in London, Ontario.

Led by principal investigator Dr. Lisa-Ann Fraser, the program will link ICES’ robust population health data to neighbourhood-level weather data acquired through a partnership with the Meteorological Service of Canada. The scientists will develop and summarize new knowledge on the current and changing impact of extreme weather on health outcomes and healthcare delivery in Ontario.

“By combining ICES’ vast health data with the detailed data from the Meteorological Service of Canada, the research being planned by Dr. Fraser and her team will provide detailed information that has high potential to inform public health planning, and local and provincial weather-related policy,” says Dr. Amit Garg, site director at ICES Western.

In Ontario, the average annual temperature has increased by up to 1.4°C since 1948. A warmer atmosphere results in more intense and frequent extreme weather events such as flash floods, heat waves and ice storms. In Canada, weather events that used to occur once every 40 years now happen about once every six years. A further 3.6°C increase in average annual temperature is predicted for Ontario this century, making extreme weather events likely to increase in frequency and intensity.

The WeATHeR program proposes to examine the effect of weather stress on specific outcomes, in particular asthma, fractures, diabetic emergencies, kidney and renal health, hyperkalemia, bacterial infections such as cellulitis, mood disorders, blood clots and heart disease. The researchers plan to create regional estimates of the burden of various type of weather stress, identify groups particularly vulnerable to weather stress, and assess how weather events affect the quality and timeliness of service delivery. They also hope to assess the effectiveness of interventions and estimate how burdens may worsen in the future.

ICES is an independent, non-profit organization that uses population-based health information to produce knowledge on a broad range of health care issues. Our unbiased evidence provides measures of health system performance, a clearer understanding of the shifting health care needs of Ontarians, and a stimulus for discussion of practical solutions to optimize scarce resources. ICES knowledge is highly regarded in Canada and abroad, and is widely used by government, hospitals, planners, and practitioners to make decisions about care delivery and to develop policy.

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