The intensity of the urban heat island (UHI) phenomenon in Taipei and New Taipei City is statistically significant when considering the suicide rate among older residents, the results of a recent study showed.
The study, published in this month’s issue of the Taiwan Journal of Public Health, found that for every 1°C increase in the UHI, the suicide rate among older residents rose by 5.49 percent.
The study investigated the correlation between the urban heat island — a metropolitan area that is substantially warmer than surrounding rural areas due to human activity — and the suicide mortality rate among people aged 65 and older in Taipei and New Taipei City from 2000 to 2008, using geographic information and statistical analysis.
The survey was conducted by researchers from National Chiayi University, National Yang-Ming University, National Cheng Kung University, the National Health Research Institutes and Academia Sinica, Taiwan’s top research institution.
Researchers used data collected by weather stations and a Kriging interpolation method to estimate the intensity of the UHI effect in each region, according to an abstract of the study.
They then examined the spatial and temporal trends in the UHI effect and suicides among older residents, and assessed the spatial cluster effect of suicides among older residents.
Finally, they assessed the link between the UHI and suicides among older residents, after adjusting for confounders such as air temperature and precipitation, as well as income tax, education level, marital status and gender ratio.
Wu Chih-da (吳治達), one of the coauthors of the study and an assistant professor at National Chiayi University’s Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, said that temperatures have been an important factor in the suicides.
The increase in temperature caused by the UHI effect in Taiwan can be serious, as the nation is densely populated and its population and industries are concentrated in cities, where crowded concrete structures make it hard for heat to dissipate, Wu said.
Citing statistics, he said that people aged 65 and older have a much higher suicide mortality rate than other age groups.
Between 2000 and 2008, 1,785 people aged 65 and older committed suicide in Taipei and New Taipei City, Wu said.
He said Taiwan’s metropolitan areas are in need of more green spaces and parks, which could help reduce the intensity of the UHI effect.
Liu Mu-en (劉慕恩), a physician at Taipei Veterans General Hospital’s Psychiatry Department, said studies have shown that residents’ moods can be affected by the weather and that people become more irritable during hot weather.
He advised older people to stay in air-conditioned rooms or visit malls or other public places with air-conditioning when temperatures become too hot.
The Taiwan Journal of Public Health is published every two months by the Taiwan Public Health Association, an academic organization that focuses on the advancement of public health.
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