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Protecting the most high-risk people during hot weather: expert comment

As media report that the UK is experiencing the start of a heatwave this weekend, Dr Raquel Nunes, senior research fellow at Warwick Medical School, comments that efforts to support vulnerable people during extreme heat, particularly with the current coronavirus restrictions, should focus on those who lack independence or have pre-existing health issues.

She comments: “Society needs to better understand the risks and impacts of extreme heat, particularly with vulnerable people who may still be shielding from coronavirus. The typical media coverage during a heatwave is dominated by the medical model of health and its general advice on heat avoidance. Such type of advice includes restricting physical activity, wearing loose and light-coloured clothing, drinking more water, cooling the body, and protecting against sunburn. But this common sense and passive mode of communication is extremely problematic as it places to much emphasis on individual physiological characteristics and forgets about all the social and environmental characteristics. To overcome this problem, the advice given during a heatwave should mostly focus on high-risk or the most vulnerable people in society, usually people with pre-existing illnesses such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, the very young or very old, those working outdoors, those who are socially isolated, the homeless, and currently all those self-isolating and shielding. This advice should adopt a broader, social model of health addressing the wider determinants of health such as income, housing quality, social networks and healthy workplaces. This could include providing other types of advice that people may not be aware of such as checking on vulnerable relatives, friends and neighbours either in person (but complying with physical/social distancing), via the telephone or online, providing information via heat-health telephone helplines, as well as identifying and going to cool public places within the community (bearing in mind that some may still be closed due to the current coronavirus restrictions).”

Notes:

‘Older adults’ independence is most significant factor for vulnerability in hot weather’: https://warwick.ac.uk/newsandevents/pressreleases/older_adults_independence

Also: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanplh/article/PIIS2542-5196(19)30107-X/fulltext

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09603123.2019.1609655?journalCode=cije20

https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0208121

7 August 2020

Contact:

Peter Thorley
Media Relations Manager (Warwick Medical School and Department of Physics)

Email: peter.thorley@warwick.ac.uk

Mob: +44 (0) 7824 540863