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Berlin Environmental Atlas

04.11 Climate Model Berlin - Planning Advices Urban Climate (Edition 2016)

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How can impacts of urban climate on health be studied?

On the one hand, connections between urban climate and human health can be studied on the basis of the impacts of thermal load and air pollution on mortality, morbidity (frequency of diseases), or e.g. on individual physical and psychological parameters. These health indicators often come from data from death statistics, hospital diagnosis statistics (e.g. patient admissions in hospitals), statutory health insurance funds (e.g. billing data) or emergency rescue services. In order to capture thermal load and air pollution, data are obtained from stationary monitoring networks , mobile measurements or based on spatial interpolation.

In investigating the connections between environmental exposures and health impacts, a distinction is made between short-term and long-term effects. Short-term effects occur in immediate temporal proximity to the exposure (i.e. within a few days). However, in the long run chronic diseases may result (Breitner et al. 2013).

On the other hand, the risk for health effects of thermal load and air pollution can also be derived from urban, population and social structures. Taking further health and meteorological indicators into account, this approach results in vulnerability, environmental risk or heat stress maps that spatially represent the potential risk for heat stress or further environmental loads (cf. Chapter "Special vulnerability based on demographic composition", Dugord et al. 2014, Kim et al. 2014, SenStadtUm 2015d).

The connection between thermal or heat load, air pollutants and health impacts is most frequently investigated on the basis of epidemiological studies. Epidemiology is a scientific discipline that deals with the causes and effects and the diffusion of health-related conditions and events in populations (Mücke et al. 2013). In time series analyses, data from environmental exposures and so-called health endpoints (e.g. disease, death) on the level of aggregated populations (instead of individuals) are taken as a basis, and changes in the strength of environmental influences and certain health effects are investigated using regression analyses in different temporal resolutions (mostly day or month). Possible perturbations, such as seasonal influences, temporal trends, meteorology and socio-economic status of the investigated population can also be taken into account. Since health impacts do not always manifest immediately after changes in the environmental influences, the observed temporal delay of the health impacts is also called a time lag or lag (Breitner et al. 2013). Time series analyses allow for including large numbers of cases and long time periods, and for high resolutions on the spatial level, which is especially relevant for intra-urban differentiations of environmental impacts on the urban population.

However, connections between environmental exposures and health impacts can also be captured on the basis of persons or groups of persons, e.g. by means of case-control studies, cohort studies or by surveying exposed persons regarding their health condition, performance and well-being. These study designs consider fewer case numbers but allow for a better control of confounding factors and for representing connections at the individual level.

Table 3 shows an overview of studies that investigate the impacts of thermal load and air pollution on health in Berlin and specifies the data and the temporal and spatial resolutions used.

Tab. 3: Overview of studies investigating the impacts of thermal load and air pollution on health in Berlin (as of 2015, selection)

[Table is also available as Excel-File (MS-Excel is required).]

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