Global association of cold spells and adverse health effects: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Niilo R.I. Ryti, Yuming Guo, Jouni J.K. Jaakkola

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

138 Citations (Scopus)


Background: There is substantial evidence that mortality increases in low temperatures. Less is known about the role of prolonged cold periods denoted as cold spells. Objective: We conducted the first systematic review and meta-analysis to summarize the evidence on the adverse health effects of cold spells in varying climates. Data sources and extraction: Four databases (Ovid Medline, PubMed, Scopus, Web of Science) were searched for all years and languages available. “Cold spell” was defined as an event below a temperature threshold lasting for a minimum duration of 2 days. Of 1,527 identified articles, 26 satisfied our eligibility criteria for the systematic review, and 9 were eligible for meta-analyses. The articles were grouped by the three main study questions into Overall-effect Group, Added-effect Group, and Temperature-change-effect Group. Data synthesis: Based on random-effects models in the meta-analyses, cold spells were associated with increased mortality from all or all nonaccidental causes (summary rate ratio = 1.10; 95% CI: 1.04, 1.17 based on 9 estimates from five studies), cardiovascular diseases (1.11; 95% CI: 1.03, 1.19; 12 estimates from eight studies), and respiratory diseases (1.21; 95% CI: 0.97, 1.51; 8 estimates from four studies). Estimated associations were stronger for people ≥ 65 years of age (1.06; 95% CI: 1.00, 1.12) than for people 0–64 years of age (1.01; 95% CI: 1.00, 1.03). Study-specific effect estimates from a limited number of studies suggested an increased morbidity related to cold spells, but it was not possible to quantitatively summarize the evidence. Conclusions: Cold spells are associated with increased mortality rates in populations around the world. The body of evidence suggests that cold spells also have other adverse health effects. There was substantial heterogeneity among the studies, which should be taken into account in the interpretation of the results.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12-22
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental Health Perspectives
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2016
Externally publishedYes

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