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

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.

  • Socio-Economic
  • Housing
  • Lifestyle
  • Seasonal
  • Epidemiology
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