U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services: Press Release May 31, 2024  On National Heat Awareness Day,

the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is launching a new tool to help communities

prepare for extreme heat and prevent heat-related illness, especially among those most at risk.

New tool – the first-ever to provide zip-code level data – will help target heat-related health resources and prioritize life-saving interventions for communities most affected by extreme heat

The Heat and Health Index (HHI) is the first nationwide tool to provide heat-health outcome information at the ZIP code level. The HHI will help state and local officials identify communities, at the zip code level, most likely to experience negative health outcomes from heat, ensure that outreach and medical aid reach the people who need it most, and help decision-makers prioritize community resilience investments.

As all seasons, especially summer, continue to get hotter due to the climate crisis, stronger public health protections are needed. Heat is already the deadliest weather-related hazard – CDC estimates that at least 1,220 people in the U.S. are killed by heat events each year. The HHI is the latest step by the Biden-Harris Administration to provide communities with the support and resources they need to stay safe from the worsening effects of climate change, including extreme heat.

“All across the country, communities are battling to keep people cool, safe and alive in the face of dangerous, record-setting heat, made worse by the climate crisis. Exposure to extreme temperatures can lead to serious illness and death, and the risks for people who are pregnant and those with pre-existing conditions like asthma or diabetes, are even greater,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “With the hottest months ahead of us, the Biden-Harris Administration is taking important steps to protect communities, by giving advance understanding of the dangers before heat waves hit. President Biden promised to provide the tools and resources that communities need to stay safe from the effects of the climate crisis – and he is continuing to deliver.”

The most recent National Climate Assessment highlighted the scale at which climate change is driving record-breaking high temperatures and dangerous heat waves across the country and world, underscoring that these events will only become more severe and common as the planet warms. Pre-existing health conditions, such as asthma or diabetes, can increase negative health outcomes when an individual is exposed to heat. Community and environmental characteristics, such as poverty, age, pregnancy, access to a vehicle, and tree canopy cover, can impact exposure or sensitivity to heat or lessen one’s ability to cope with heat. Developing tools like the HHI to address this increasing threat to communities and public health is critical.

The HHI combines historic temperature data and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) data on heat-related emergency responses from the past three years, as well as data on community characteristics, including pre-existing health conditions, socio-demographic information, and characteristics of the natural and built environment, to provide a final heat and health index ranking by ZIP code, which can be used to empower strategic, data-informed decision-making.

Public health officials, city planners, and policymakers will now be able to identify and prioritize areas across the country most at risk and help prepare these communities to better weather heat events. For example, if a heat wave is coming, public health officials can use the HHI to identify ZIP codes likely to experience negative health outcomes from heat and stand up cooling centers in those areas to help provide immediate relief. Health care providers can plan for an uptick in patients at local hospitals. City planners can use the HHI to identify the ZIP codes that would benefit the most from heat mitigation strategies, like increased tree canopy cover, increased access to air conditioning, or cool roofs. By working at the community-level to build resilience, this tool will help to lessen the impacts of heat on our communities at greatest risk.

“Heat can pose a threat to our health, but with the right tools, we can protect our communities,” said Dr. Mandy K. Cohen, Director of CDC. “CDC’s new Heat and Health Index combines important data on heat and risk factors in the community to help local officials prepare for and respond to the health impacts of heat.”

The HHI is created, in partnership, by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)’s Geospatial Research, Analysis, and Services Program (GRASP), the Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Climate Change and Health Equity, the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH) Climate and Health Program, and the CDC/NCEH Environmental Public Health Tracking Program. It harnesses data from across the Federal government including the National Emergency Medical Services Information System (NEMSIS), the North American Land Data Assimilation System Phase 2 (NLDAS-2), CDC’s PLACES, U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey (ACS) 5-year estimates, the National Land Cover Database, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The HHI will be available on the CDC National Environmental Public Health Tracking Program’s Heat and Health Tracker. HHI will also be linked to National Integrated Heat Health Information System’s (NIHHIS) heat.gov portal, as part of ongoing collaboration across the federal government to share information and resources on heat and protect those at greatest risk. The HHI will be updated periodically with the release of new data.

“While communities may already know they have a problem with heat, they may not know which solutions might have the greatest impact on reducing their vulnerability,” said HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Rachel Levine. “Communities can use the HHI to determine which factors might be contributing the most to negative health outcomes from heat and inform interventions to reduce future risk.”

“The HHI opens a window onto what may make one community more sensitive to heat than another in a way that’s never been possible before,” said Dr. Aaron Bernstein, Director of ATSDR and CDC’s NCEH. “The HHI can help communities learn which factors might contribute most to harm from hot weather and point to the best interventions to reduce risk.”

The new tool builds off existing HHS heat tools to help provide a more complete look at communities most at risk of negative health impacts from heat, and complements CDC’s latest clinical guidance on heat for doctors and providers. The existing EMS HeatTracker  and the CDC Heat and Health Tracker help identify heat-related illnesses occurring at the county and regional levels, respectively. The HHI complements these tools by allowing people to plan for the impacts of heat and safeguard communities before extreme heat events occur.

To learn more about the Heat and Health Index (HHI), explore its features, and discover how it can help communities better prepare for and respond to heat events, please visit here. For additional information on the HHS Office of Climate Change and Health Equity (OCCHE), heat forecasts, and protective actions you can take, visit here. To find out about the federal government's initiatives and efforts related to heat and health, please visit heat.gov.

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