A disturbing trend emerged in Europe after the 2003 heat wave. The elderly who suffered through it and lived saw a dramatic decline in healthy years. While they still lived as long, they were ill instead of returning to health.
The take home message is that those of us over 60 have an immediate interest in halting Climate Destabilization. We could suffer permanently, even if we survive the horrid heat waves that climate models predict.
Europeans are living longer. But since 2003, they’ve suddenly enjoyed fewer years of healthy life, say demographers
... Ugo Bardi and Virginia Perini at the University of Florence in Italy offer disturbing evidence that the health of people in Italy has fallen dramatically since 2003. And they say the same pattern is being repeated across most of Europe for reasons that are hard to explain.
In Europe, a body known as the European Community Household Project has been monitor the health levels since 1995 using surveys .
The data from these surveys allows statisticians to calculate an index known as Healthy Life Years Expectancy. This is a measure of the number of years of healthy life that people enjoy, or at least think they enjoy (since the way people perceive their own health is a key variable that is difficult to account for).
... in Italy between 1995 and 2003, life expectancy increased from 75 to 80.1 for men and from 81.8 to 85.3 for women. At the same time, the number of years of healthy life increased from 66.7 to 70.9 for men and from 70 to 74.4 for women.
But in 2003, all that changed. The number of healthy years of life began to drop steeply, eventually stabilising around 62 years for both sexes. So while men and women are living longer, they are having fewer years of healthy life today than they did ten years ago. “an increase in life expectancy is not necessarily an indication of better living conditions of the population,” say Bardi and Perini.
That’s an extraordinary change. But it’s not limited to Italy. A similar drop occurred after 2003 in Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Greece, Spain, Austria, Portugal, Finland and Sweden. In France, a less pronounced drop occurred in 2006.
So almost everywhere in Europe, people are living longer but having fewer years of healthy life. Only in the UK, Denmark and the Netherlands did people buck this trend with the numbers of years of healthy life increasing in these places since 2003.
That raises an obvious question: what happened in 2003?
Bardi and Perini say the obvious culprit is the weather. In 2003, Europe experienced one of the most extreme heat waves on record. In August 2003 alone, an extra 45,000 people died across Europe, almost certainly because of complications associated with the high temperatures.
But this heat wave must have had other effects too. “It must have affected also the general health of those who survived the wave,” say Bardi and Perini.
Their hypothesis is that the extreme conditions triggered long term illnesses, particularly among those suffering from the chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and so on.
That’s a startling conclusion that has significant implications. For a start, while the summer of 2003 was clearly unusual, climatologists have repeatedly warned that more hotter summers are on the way. So we can expect more heat related deaths and illnesses. [emphasis mine]