FRIDAY, June 3, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- A lack of central air conditioning may explain why heat-related deaths are more likely in black urban households than in white households in the United States, according to a new study.
University of Michigan researchers analyzed heat-related deaths in Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis and Pittsburgh between 1986 and 1993 and found that white households were more than twice as likely to have central air conditioning than black homes.
Reporting in the June issue of the Journal of Urban Health, the researchers also found that black households had a 5 percent higher rate of heat-related deaths than white households. In fact, the lack of central air conditioning in black homes could contribute to as much as 64 percent of the difference between heat-related deaths in blacks' and whites' households, the researchers said.
There was no consistent pattern between race and access to single-unit room air conditioners, the investigators noted.
They added that access to central air conditioning is likely linked with other socioeconomic characteristics, such as income and access to services such as shopping and healthcare. All of these factors can also affect a person's vulnerability to extremely hot weather, they said.
For example, study author Marie O'Neill noted that "during a 1995 heat wave in Chicago, social contacts, mobility, affordability of electricity and sense of personal security affected whether people had adequate ventilation and cooling in their homes."
She and her colleagues calculated that even a 10 percent increase in the prevalence of central air conditioning could result in a 1.4 percent decline in heat-related deaths. O'Neill believes cities need to factor in potential race-based differences in access to central air conditioning when they plan outreach programs to provide cool public spaces for people during hot weather.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers tips on how to prevent heat-related illness.