Published online by Cambridge University Press: 22 October 2009
Excess winter morbidity and mortality among older people remain significant public health issues in those European countries which experience relatively mild winter temperatures, particularly the United Kingdom (UK), Ireland, Portugal and Spain. In the UK, episodes of severe winter weather, when ambient temperatures fall below 5° C, are associated with peaks in general practitioner consultations, hospital admissions, and cardiovascular deaths among those aged over 65. While research indicates that such health risks could be substantially reduced by the adoption of appropriate behavioural strategies, accessible and credible advice on how older people can reduce risk during ‘cold snaps’ is lacking. This paper describes a programme of research that aimed: (a) to translate the relevant scientific literature into practical advice for older people in order to reduce health risk during episodes of severe winter weather; and (b) to integrate this advice with a severe winter weather ‘Early Warning System’ developed by the UK Met Office. An advice booklet was generated through a sequential process of systematic review, consensus development, and focus group discussions with older people. In a subsequent field trial, a combination of the Met Office ‘Early Warning System’ and the advice booklet produced behavioural change among older people consistent with risk reduction. The results also show that long-held convictions about ‘healthy environments’ and anxieties about fuel costs are barriers to risk reduction.