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Excess winter mortality in Europe: a cross country analysis identifying key risk factors
  1. J D Healy
  1. Department of Environmental Studies, University College Dublin, Ireland
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr J D Healy
 Urban Institute Ireland, University College Dublin, Richview Campus, Dublin 14, Ireland;


Objective: Much debate remains regarding why certain countries experience dramatically higher winter mortality. Potential causative factors other than cold exposure have rarely been analysed. Comparatively less research exists on excess winter deaths in southern Europe. Multiple time series data on a variety of risk factors are analysed against seasonal-mortality patterns in 14 European countries to identify key relations

Subjects and setting: Excess winter deaths (all causes), 1988–97, EU-14.

Design: Coefficients of seasonal variation in mortality are calculated for EU-14 using monthly mortality data. Comparable, longitudinal datasets on risk factors pertaining to climate, macroeconomy, health care, lifestyle, socioeconomics, and housing were also obtained. Poisson regression identifies seasonality relations over time.

Results: Portugal suffers from the highest rates of excess winter mortality (28%, CI=25% to 31%) followed jointly by Spain (21%, CI=19% to 23%), and Ireland (21%, CI=18% to 24%). Cross country variations in mean winter environmental temperature (regression coefficient (β)=0.27), mean winter relative humidity (β=0.54), parity adjusted per capita national income (β=1.08), per capita health expenditure (β=−1.19), rates of income poverty (β=−0.47), inequality (β=0.97), deprivation (β=0.11), and fuel poverty (β=0.44), and several indicators of residential thermal standards are found to be significantly related to variations in relative excess winter mortality at the 5% level. The strong, positive relation with environmental temperature and strong negative relation with thermal efficiency indicate that housing standards in southern and western Europe play strong parts in such seasonality.

Conclusions: High seasonal mortality in southern and western Europe could be reduced through improved protection from the cold indoors, increased public spending on health care, and improved socioeconomic circumstances resulting in more equitable income distribution.

  • excess winter mortality
  • seasonal mortality
  • risk factors
  • cross-country analysis
  • housing
  • fuel poverty
  • southern Europe

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  • Funding: I am grateful to the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences for financial support, and to the Environmental Institute and Urban Institute of Ireland, University College Dublin, for additional funding.

  • Conflicts of interest: none declared.

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