New UK Health Report to Help Britons Adapt to Greater Health Risks as Climate Changes

The new study and report from the UK's Health Protection Agency highlights the growing health risks associated with climate change, as well as the beneficial impacts of switching to a low-carbon society.

Looking to further assess and address the risks to human health posed by climate change, the UK's Health Protection Agency (HPA) has released a new report, "Health Effects of Climate Change in the UK 2012.”

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In this latest effort to better assess and gauge the health risks climate change poses in the UK, HPA researchers concluded that climate change poses a wide range of increased health risks from a range of factors, including greater ranges of temperature and a higher frequency of extreme weather events, as well as increased levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation, increased levels and duration of allergens in the air, higher levels of outdoor and indoor air pollution and increased levels of food, water and insect-borne diseases.

The HPA's latest report also highlights the benefits a national strategy and nationwide efforts to reduce carbon and greenhouse gas emissions can have on improving health conditions in the UK. In addition to healthier air, land and water resources, these benefits extend to the promotion of healthier, more active lifestyles.

Commenting on researchers' findings, HPA chairman Dr. David Heyman stated, “There is no doubt that climate change poses a wide range of challenges to public health in the UK. From increased risks of heatwaves through to potentially greater exposure to air pollution, indoors and outdoors, and potential changes to established pollen seasons, there are many issues all of which need further research and attention if we are to adapt to, or mitigate the effects.”

Development of Low-Carbon Society Reduces Health Risks, Promotes Better Health

This latest study on the health impacts of climate change in the UK follows up on previous seminal reports, including the 2001 publication of “The Health Effects of Climate Change in the UK,” by the Dept. of Health (DoH), a 2008 update of that study produced by the DoH and HPA, and production of the UK's first Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) in 2009.

The CCRA examines the impacts of climate change on health spanning 11 sectors of UK society. The CCRA research project was undertaken as required by the UK's Climate Change Act of 2008. It incorporates what were then the latest long-range climate projections of the UK from the UK Climate Impacts Programme.

The growing body of evidence regarding the effects of climate change in the UK—the HPA's new study in particular—will help inform and guide policies and actions not only at the level of national health agencies but increasingly those at the local level.

The HPA is moving to Public Health England next year, a change that entails greater involvement with local authorities in public health decision-making, according to HPA. “This report will help provide valuable evidence towards local protection of the public’s health, with, for example, many actions to combat heatwaves already covered in our National Heatwave Plan,” DH Chief Medical Officer Prof. Dame Sally Davies writes in the HPA's report's first preface.

“As well as preparing for the health impacts of climate change, we are also able to help prevent the worst of these impacts as urgent action to reduce individual and corporate carbon footprints continues. We can then also reap the health benefits of a low-carbon society, with cleaner air and more active, healthier lifestyles to help combat obesity, cancer and heart disease. A win-win we can all engage in.”

Image credit: UK Met Office, BBC

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