| Erfurt Laboratory for Empirical Research, Institute for Planetary Health Behaviour, Philosophische Fakultät, Seminar für Medien- und Kommunikationswissenschaft, SPF Bildung. Schule. Verhalten., Forschung

Health risks from heat: PACE recommends action for more education

The climate crisis has far-reaching consequences for human health. One of the most obvious impacts is the increase in temperature and extreme heat events. High temperatures can pose significant risks to the human body, especially for certain segments of the population. These include the elderly; infants and young children; pregnant women; people who are overweight or malnourished; people who work physically hard or outdoors; people who exercise intensively; the homeless; people with acute illnesses (e.g., diarrhea, fever) or certain chronic conditions; and people who regularly use alcohol or drugs. Their physiological characteristics make them more vulnerable to heat stress and heat-related illness. With this in mind, the Institute for Planetary Health Behavior (IPB) of the University of Erfurt launched a special survey on heat in May 2023 as part of its PACE study. The results have now been published and provide recommendations for action for those affected and multipliers:

Two-thirds of the respondents had risk factors, often more than one. However, only one-third perceived themselves to be at risk – so at least one-third of respondents underestimated their own heat risk. Those who do not know their risk status are less likely to exhibit heat-protective behaviors. In order to inform themselves about heat and protective behavior, the respondents used weather apps, television and radio particularly frequently. Doctors were mentioned as a source of information especially by people with multiple risk factors. Those at higher risk tended to get more information about heat waves, but less about whether heat days are coming and how to protect themselves from heat. Interestingly, respondents who know less about the topic still feel well informed. What's more, those who supervise at-risk individuals in their professional or personal lives were also less likely to know about heat risks, even though this group is more likely to seek information on the topic of heat. According to the survey, less than half of the people with multiple, actually present risk factors had already talked to doctors about the topic of heat and the associated risks to their health.

The IPB team derives the following recommendations for action from these findings:

  • Target group-specific education is necessary. Target groups are people with one or more risk factors and people who care for other people with risk factors in their professional or private lives (e.g. also infants and toddlers).
  • Some risk factors can be influenced (e.g., exercise intensively on heat days, drink alcohol). This should be pointed out in the education.
  • People who care for at-risk individuals should be actively informed. The knowledge imparted should be directly relevant to action, and heat protection behavior should also be made easy by the general conditions.
  • Almost one third of people do not know that they have a risk factor. They estimate the danger by heat for themselves as smaller and show less protective behavior.
  • Much is known about heat, but there is often a lack of motivation for protective measures ("I don't want to; I forgot"). On hot days, frequently used media (weather apps, radio) should therefore point out, e.g. as part of the weather news, which people are particularly at risk and what to look out for.
  • Doctors are an important source of information for all people. They should therefore be sensitized to the risk factors and the needs of risk groups, as well as to protective behavior. Individuals with multiple risk factors could especially benefit from discussions with medical staff, as they generally know less about heat and appropriate protective behaviors.
  • Places where at-risk individuals are present (e.g., food service (alcohol); workplace (heavy physical labor, outdoor work); or facilities such as daycare centers and nursing homes) should provide opportunities for heat protection (spatial and informational).
  • On heat days, employers should consider whether it is possible to postpone core working hours, as many people indicated that some heat protection measures (such as postponing working hours, physical activity, avoiding physical exertion) were not possible or financially affordable for them due to time constraints.
  • Sources such as the German Weather Service, apps, television and radio are frequently used for the topic of heat, but are mentioned much less frequently as sources of information about heat risks and protective measures. This may be an opportunity for education, as these sources are also frequently used by at-risk individuals and often have "push" messages (e.g., apps). This could also compensate for the fact that at-risk individuals are less likely to actively seek out information about heat days or protective behaviors on their own, and individuals with multiple risk factors have less knowledge about heat and protective behaviors.

For more on the current survey, see the executive summary(in German only).


(Institute for Planetary Health Behaviour (IPB))
Weltbeziehungen / C19.01.27