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J Epidemiol Community Health 67:1061-1067 doi:10.1136/jech-2013-202693
  • Review

Socioeconomic and behavioural risk factors for adverse winter health and social outcomes in economically developed countries: a systematic review of quantitative observational studies

  1. Martin White1,3
  1. 1Institute of Health and Society, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
  2. 2Institute for Ageing and Health, Newcastle University, Campus for Ageing and Vitality, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
  3. 3Fuse, UKCRC Centre for Translational Research in Public Health, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
  1. Correspondence to Louise Tanner, Institute of Health and Society, Newcastle University, Baddiley-Clark Building, Richardson Road, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 4AX, UK; l.tanner{at}newcastle.ac.uk
  • Received 29 March 2013
  • Revised 28 August 2013
  • Accepted 14 September 2013
  • Published Online First 7 October 2013

Abstract

Background Mortality and morbidity rates are often highest during the winter period, particularly in countries with milder climates. A growing body of research has identified potential socioeconomic, housing and behavioural mediators of cold weather-related adverse health and social outcomes, but an inclusive systematic review of this literature has yet to be performed.

Methods A systematic review, with narrative synthesis, of observational research published in English between 2001 and 2011, which quantified associations between socioeconomic, housing or behavioural factors and cold weather-related adverse health or social outcomes.

Results Thirty-three studies met the inclusion criteria. Average study quality was not high. Most studies failed to control for all relevant confounding factors, or to conduct research over a long enough period to ascertain causality. Low income, housing conditions and composite fuel poverty measures were most consistently associated with cold weather-related adverse health or social outcomes.

Conclusions This review identified socioeconomic, housing and behavioural factors associated with a range of cold weather-related adverse health or social outcomes. Only tentative conclusions can be drawn due to the limitations of existing research. More robust studies are needed to address the methodological issues identified and uncover causal associations. A review of qualitative and intervention studies would help to inform policies to reduce the adverse health and social impacts of cold weather.

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