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Wednesday, 7 November, 2001, 00:49 GMT
Cold homes 'killing elderly'
Elderly person
Many homes are poorly insulated
Thousands of vulnerable elderly people are dying unnecessarily each year because their homes are too cold, research shows.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation says the combination of low income and poorly insulated housing leads to thousands more unnecessary deaths in England than in other European countries.

A study carried out for the charity by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine estimates that, despite its mild winters, Britain has around 40,000 more deaths between December and March than expected in other months of the year.


For years we have guessed that cold homes can kill, now, for the first time, we have strong, scientific evidence

Richard Best
Joseph Rowntree Foundation
The researchers believe the most significant factor is the poor state of the housing stock in the UK.

The people who were most at risk lived in houses that were old and poorly insulated.

Richard Best, director of the foundation, said: "For years we have guessed that cold homes can kill, now, for the first time, we have strong, scientific evidence.

"National investment in insulation and better heating would not only improve the quality of life of older, poorer people, it would extend it."

Proof


Sitting in a cold environment day after day can precipitate heart attacks, strokes and respiratory illnesses

Dr Paul Wilkinson
Dr Paul Wilkinson, who led the research, added: "The results suggest a chain of causation that links older, poorly insulated, poorly heated housing and poverty to low indoor temperatures and cold-related deaths.

"Hence, it is likely that substantial health benefits could be achieved by measures aimed at improving the thermal efficiency of homes and the affordability of heating them."

The study found deaths from heart attacks and strokes were 23% more common than expected during the winter months.

Although elderly people were most at risk, some rise was recorded for all age groups.

Dr Wilkinson said: "To my knowledge the UK has the largest proportional increase in excess winter deaths in Europe.

"Sitting in a cold environment day after day can precipitate heart attacks, strokes and respiratory illnesses."

Campaign

The government has launched its Keep Warm Keep Well Campaign with a guide and phoneline to help older people stay healthy in the colder months.

Health Minister Jacqui Smith said: "Although the risks from cold-related ill-health apply to everyone, the people most susceptible to potentially fatal winter illnesses are often those who are least able to protect themselves.

"The campaign offers a combination of practical advice on keeping warm, local support and financial benefits."

See also:

23 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Plan to cut deaths in cold homes
19 Sep 00 | Health
Cold weather kills thousands
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