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Last winter 9,000 more British pensioners died than usual — how many were due to high heating costs?

Higher electricity costs mean more people turn off their heaters

There’s a big freeze coming to Britain with minus 12C temperatures possible in the next three weeks.

Last year in winter in England there was a remarkable 40% rise in winter deaths

David Archibald emails that last year was a mild winter for Brits, but the death toll rose from the normal 25,000 excess to 34,000 people. Remembering that it’s moderate cold that kills far more people than extreme temperatures. The UK government advises rooms be heated to at least 18C. (I’ve been in a Canberra house where the temperature fell to 11C indoors, and that was in May.) Despite all the newspaper headlines about outside temperatures, the big killer is indoors.

Indoor temperature matters, graph, deaths, moderate cold, extreme heat, lancet.

The big killer is indoor temperature and moderately cold, not extremes.

Campaigners demand urgent cuts to power bill after number of winter deaths among the elderly rise by 40%

Pensioner groups are demanding urgent measures to cut the cost of heat and light after official figures revealed a surge in deaths last winter. There were some 34,300 so-called ‘excess’ deaths during the cold months, according to new figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS). The figure equates to 11 pensioners dying every hour and represents a rise of 39.5 per cent – 9,720 – on the year before.

The excess deaths largely came from English regions. Statistics in Wales were stable. It’s partly due to the strain of flu virus, but colder room temperatures are a known risk factor.

Research suggests that further increases in dual-fuel tariffs in the past year means people are increasingly worried about putting the heating on.

National Pensioners Convention (NPC) general secretary Jan Short says governments have been ignoring the excess winter deaths and the cost of heating:

“‘Almost one in three older people live in homes with inadequate heating or insulation making their homes more difficult to heat or keep warm.

Research by the price comparison website, Energyhelpine, claims that UK families are now paying the highest energy prices in history – 33per cent higher than six years ago.

Age UK’s Charity Director, Caroline Abrahams,  claims that 250,000 older people have died from the cold over the last 10 years – and 2.5milllion over the past 60 years.

Influenza virus transmission is higher at colder temperatures and with lower humidity.

From Lancet, cold ambient temperatures increase both cardiovascular deaths and infectious deaths. Colder temperatures cause blood to thicken, blood pressure to rise and sinflammatory responses:

The biological processes that underlie cold-related mortality mainly have cardio vascular and respiratory effects. Exposure to cold has been associated with cardiovascular stress by affecting factors such as blood pressure and plasma fibrinogen, vasoconstriction and blood viscosity, and inflammatory responses. Similarly, cold induces bronchoconstriction and suppresses mucociliary defences and other immunological reactions, resulting in local inflammation and increased risk of respiratory infections. These physiological responses can persist for longer than those attributed to heat, and seem to produce mortality risks that follow a smooth, close-to-linear response, with most of the attributable risk occurring in moderately cold days.

h/t Pat too


Antonio Gasparrini et al.  (2015) Mortality risk attributable to high and low ambient temperature: a multicountry observational study. The Lancet, May 2015 DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(14)62114-0Full PDF.

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