Preventing injuries and deaths during extreme heat events
Glen P. Kenny, PhD
Robert Meade, PhD
Sarah Henderson, PhD
Rising temperatures are one of the biggest global health threats of the 21st century. They underscore a critical need for ambitious adaptation and advancement of protective measures to safeguard the health of populations. The threat of rising temperatures is even greater in Canada because the country is warming 2-3 times faster than other regions. The record-setting heat dome that engulfed western Canada in late June 2021 was associated with at least 740 excess deaths among older Canadians, and it strained provincial health services to a near breaking point. This catastrophic event followed on the heels of record-breaking temperatures in 2020, which capped the hottest decade ever recorded in Canada and the planet. While the negative health impacts of heat are predictable and largely preventable, improving population health outcomes requires that policy makers, frontline clinical staff, health managers, and others have comprehensive knowledge of factors affecting heat-vulnerable populations. In this presentation, we will review the effects of the 2021 heat dome and examine how we can mobilize to improve our preparedness to respond and adapt to extreme heat events. We will review how science is helping to generate the evidence-based heat protection solutions (e.g., use of cooling centers, fan use) and advice to safeguard the health and well-being of susceptible people during extreme hot weather.
Dr. Glen P. Kenny is a Professor of Human and Environmental Physiology at the University of Ottawa and holds an Industry Research Chair in Environmental Physiology. He is principal investigator of numerous studies directed at understanding the health impacts of heat from the cell to the whole-body response overviewed in 450 peer-reviewed papers. His work is unique in that it employs the world’s only direct air calorimeter - a device for making very precise measurements of body heat exchange - to assess the physiological consequences of heat stress under a wide array of environmental conditions in different population groups. He is senior project co-lead for Operation Heat Shield Canada. The project draws together global experts to formalize a long-term research partnership and catalyze his team’s cutting-edge research on the assessment of the environmental and human factors affecting a person’s ability to live and work in the heat.
Dr. Robert Meade is a Postdoctoral fellow and Masters in Public Health Student in the Human and Environmental Physiology Research Unit at the University of Ottawa (postdoc); T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University (Masters).
Dr. Sarah Henderson is the Scientific Director of Environmental Health Services at BCCDC and the Scientific Director of the National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health. She is also an Associate Professor in the UBC School of Population & Public Health. Dr. Henderson overseas a program of applied research, surveillance, and knowledge translation to support evidence-based environmental health policy and practice in British Columbia and across Canada.