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Heat, Disparities, and Health Outcomes in San Diego County's Diverse Climate Zones


Climate variability and change are issues of growing public health importance. Numerous studies have documented risks of extreme heat on human health in different locations around the world. Strategies to prevent heat-related morbidity and reduce disparities are possible but require improved knowledge of health outcomes during hot days at a small-scale level as important within-city variability in local weather conditions, socio-demographic composition, and access to air conditioning (AC) may exist. We analyzed hospitalization data for three unique climate regions of San Diego County alongside temperature data spanning 14 years to quantify the health impact of ambient air temperature at varying exceedance threshold levels. Within San Diego, coastal residents were more sensitive to heat than inland residents. At the coast, we detected a health impact at lower temperatures compared to inland locations for multiple disease categories including heat illness, dehydration, acute renal failure, and respiratory disease. Within the milder coastal region where access to AC is not prevalent, heat-related morbidity was higher in the subset of zip codes where AC saturation is lowest. We detected a 14.6% increase (95% confidence interval [4.5%, 24.6%]) in hospitalizations during hot weather in comparison to colder days in coastal locations where AC is less common, while no significant impact was observed in areas with higher AC saturation. Disparities in AC ownership were associated with income, race/ethnicity, and homeownership. Given that heat waves are expected to increase with climate change, understanding health impacts of heat and the role of acclimation is critical for improving outcomes in the future.

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