Climate change and temperature extremes: A review of heat- and cold-related morbidity and mortality concerns of municipalities

Cold and hot weather are associated with mortality and morbidity. Although the burden of temperature-associated mortality may shift towards high temperatures in the future, cold temperatures may represent a greater current-day problem in temperate cities. Hot and cold temperature vulnerabilities may coincide across several personal and neighborhood characteristics, suggesting opportunities for increasing present and future resilience to extreme temperatures. We present a narrative literature review encompassing the epidemiology of cold- and heat-related mortality and morbidity, related physiologic and environmental mechanisms, and municipal responses to hot and cold weather, illustrated by Detroit, Michigan, USA, a financially burdened city in an economically diverse metropolitan area. The Detroit area experiences sharp increases in mortality and hospitalizations with extreme heat, while cold temperatures are associated with more gradual increases in mortality, with no clear threshold. Interventions such as heating and cooling centers may reduce but not eliminate temperature-associated health problems. Furthermore, direct hemodynamic responses to cold, sudden exertion, poor indoor air quality and respiratory epidemics likely contribute to cold-related mortality. Short- and long-term interventions to enhance energy and housing security and housing quality may reduce temperature-related health problems. Extreme temperatures can increase morbidity and mortality in municipalities like Detroit that experience both extreme heat and prolonged cold seasons amidst large socioeconomic disparities. The similarities in physiologic and built-environment vulnerabilities to both hot and cold weather suggest prioritization of strategies that address both present-day cold and near-future heat concerns.