By the Numbers: Deaths from Excessive Cold and Excessive Heat; February 1998; Scientific American Magazine; by Doyle; 1 Page(s)
In normal years, 600 to 700 Americans die of excessive cold, but unusual winters may raise the annual numbers above 1,000. Aside from a few mountaineers and other athletes, the people who suffer most from extreme cold are generally those living at the edges of society--the homeless, alcohol abusers, people with severe health problems and the elderly poor, particularly those with inadequate nutrition, housing and clothing. Use of certain drugs, such as antipsychotics, increases the risk. Victims are disproportionately male, Native American and black. The higher rate at which blacks die of hypothermia--below-normal body temperature--helps to explain the surprising fact that the death rates shown in the upper map are elevated in much of the South. Normal winter temperatures in the South are generally above freezing, but occasionally they go below. Furthermore, hypothermia may occur at temperatures above freezing, particularly when people are in fairly chilly water for extended periods.
The high death rates from hypothermia in Arizona, New Mexico, the Dakotas, Montana and Alaska reflect primarily the poor living conditions and risky behavior of Native Americans. In Alaska, for example, these individuals are at greater risk than whites because of time spent outdoors far from emergency help. Alcohol is a widespread problem: in New Mexico, for example, where its sale is banned on many reservations, men go long distances to drink. Those who return in cold weather on foot are at high risk of hypothermia.