The people most affected

Although anyone can suffer cold-related health effects, some people are at greater risk. Those most vulnerable during cold spells include elderly people, infants, children and teenagers, and people who have chronic diseases or physical or mental limitations, are taking certain medications or are malnourished.

Individuals’ and families’ economic and social status also play an important role: cold weather affects people who are poor, homeless or marginalized more severely.

Workers in some occupations, such as agriculture, fishing and construction, may endure greater cold exposure, so they must be vigilant for injuries and other health effects and wear adequate protective gear.

Additionally, certain behaviour – excess use of alcohol, some outdoor leisure activities and inappropriate clothing – can put people at increased risk from cold exposure.

Paradoxically, the health effects of cold exposure are greater in the Mediterranean and southern countries in the WHO European Region than in northern countries, where housing tends to be well heated and people wear warm clothing.