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Staying Indoors Responsible for 1995 Heat Wave Killings

A new research study on the higher-than-average mortality rates of the July 1995 heat waves in Chicago has attributed older people staying indoors in their apartments// as being responsible for the heat wave killings.

The study found higher mortality rates in areas where the businesses were run-down and dominated by liquor stores and bars where older people felt less comfortable going to and hence preferred staying indoors making them more vulnerable to heat-related illness and death.

While other studies had shown that elderly people in low-income neighborhoods were most at risk of dying in a heat wave, this research shows what it is about some disadvantaged areas that leave residents more vulnerable, said Christopher Browning, lead author of the study and associate professor of sociology at Ohio State University.

"The neighborhoods with the highest mortality rates were less likely to have stores or other businesses where older people felt comfortable going to, even in the worst heat," Browning said.

"They stayed bunkered in their apartments where they were most at risk for heat-related illnesses that led to death."

Browning conducted the study with Kathleen Cagney, assistant professor in the Department of Health Studies, and Danielle Wallace, a doctoral student, both at the University of Chicago; and Seth Feinberg, an assistant professor at Western Washington University. Their results will be published in the August issue of the American Sociological Review.

"Previous research has focused on the lack of city services or the lack of neighbors checking on neighbors," Cagney said. "Both are important, but our research indicates that the neighborhood infrastructure itself could be implicated."

Nearly 800 people in Chicago, mostly elderly folks living alone, died during one week in the midst of a July 1995 heat wave. During several days that week, the temperature was over 100, with
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