Journal of Urban Health

, Volume 82, Issue 2, pp 191–197

Disparities by race in heat-related mortality in four US cities: The role of air conditioning prevalence

  • Marie S. O’Neill
  • Antonella Zanobetti
  • Joel Schwartz

DOI: 10.1093/jurban/jti043

Cite this article as:
O’Neill, M.S., Zanobetti, A. & Schwartz, J. J Urban Health (2005) 82: 191. doi:10.1093/jurban/jti043


Daily mortality is typically higher on hot days in urban areas, and certain population groups experience disproportionate risk. Air conditioning (AC) has been recommended to mitigate heat-related illness and death. We examined whether AC prevalence explained differing heat-related mortality effects by race. Poisson regression was used to model daily mortality in Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, and Pittsburgh. Predictors included natural splines of time (to control seasonal patterns); mean daily apparent temperature on the day of death, and averaged over lags 1–3; barometric pressure; day of week; and a linear term for airborne particles. Separate, city-specific models were fit to death counts stratified by race (Black or White) to derive the percent change in mortality at 29°C, relative to 15°C (lag 0). Next, city-specific effects were regressed on city-and race-specific AC prevalence. Combined effect estimates across all cities were calculated using inverse variance-weighted averages. Prevalence of central AC among Black households was less than half that among White households in all four cities, and deaths among Blacks were more strongly associated with hot temperatures. Central AC prevalence explained some of the differences in heat effects by race, but room-unit AC did not. Efforts to reduce disparities in heat-related mortality should consider access to AC.


Air conditioning Climate Ethnic groups Heat Mortality Socioeconomic factors Weather 

Copyright information

© Oxford University Press on behalf of the New York Academy of Medicine 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marie S. O’Neill
    • 1
  • Antonella Zanobetti
    • 2
  • Joel Schwartz
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.The Robert Wood Johnson Health & Society Scholars Program, Center for Social Epidemiology and Population HealthUniversity of MichiganAnn Arbor
  2. 2.Department of Environmental HealthHarvard School of Public HealthBoston
  3. 3.Department of EpidemiologyHarvard School of Public HealthBoston

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