Climate change and health
Dr Thandi Kapwata and Dr Anya Burton are researching the link between temperature, muscle function, and physical performance in older people from sub-Saharan Africa.
Musculoskeletal conditions affect joints, bones, muscles, and multiple body areas and can cause discomfort, pain, or disability. They affect 1.7 billion people in the world. These conditions are more common among older age groups and people with obesity.
In sub-Saharan Africa, ageing populations and the move towards more inactive lifestyles are leading to a heightened number of people living with musculoskeletal conditions.
Climate change is already impacting sub-Saharan Africa, and it's estimated that the average temperatures in Africa will increase at faster rates compared to other parts of the world. This will cause increases in the frequency, severity, and duration of extreme heat events and changes to seasons - there will be warmer summers and milder winters. The effects of extreme temperatures are worse in older people and those with more than one health condition.
Dr Thandi Kapwata and Dr Anya Burton, from the South African Medical Research Council and the University of Bristol, will build on existing studies that are collecting data on muscle function and physical performance of people aged 40 or older from The Gambia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The team aims to identify how climate variables like temperature impact muscle function and physical performance in older adults and assess whether metabolites (small molecules) play a role in these relationships.
This research could help inform stakeholders about policies and guidelines which could reduce the potential health effects of climate change on older people. They also plan to generate awareness about temperature levels which could be used as warnings for older people.