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Sydney debuts new Heat and Health Research Incubator

24 June 2022
Developing solutions that enable us to thrive in a warming world

The Heat and Health Research Incubator will work with policymakers, industry, healthcare professionals and researchers to reduce the impacts of extreme heat and hot weather on human health and society.

Extreme heat is incredibly damaging to human health and is expected to worsen with many people disproportionately facing the impact of extreme heat as the population ages, inequality widens and the climate warms.

The new Heat and Health Research Incubator is a multidisciplinary initiative that aims to tackle the unprecedented current and future impacts of extreme heat and hot weather on human health and society.

Through international collaboration with academics, industrial partners, policymakers, and healthcare professionals, the Incubator will investigate the causative pathways of – and provide evidence-based solutions for – the wide-ranging health impacts of heat exposure across the human lifespan.

The Incubator has five priority research themes:

  1. The Heat and Health Policy stream seeks to develop and improve guidance, regulations, and tools to better protect the most vulnerable in society to heatwaves, as well as people working in occupational settings, and playing sport.
  2. The Built Environment and Health stream will assess ways in which sustainable cooling intervention can be applied to schools, social housing, indigenous housing, aged-care homes, and refugee camps.
  3. The Women’s Health stream will seek to better undertand the mechansms through which heat exposure impacts pregnancy outcomes and post-menopausal women.
  4. The Physical and Mental Health stream aims to combat the negative effects of heat on sleep and mental health, while also finding ways of reducing heat-health vulnerability with ageing, and people with chronic diseases.
  5. The Climate Change and Health stream focuses on developing new models to predict the future survivability and liveability of different global region.

The Incubator’s leads – Professor Ollie Jay, an international leader in thermoregulatory physiology and the development of scalable heat-health solutions, and Associate Professor Ying Zhang, a senior epidemiologist and a dedicated researcher and educator on climate change and global health – explain what makes the Incubator unique.

The establishment of the Heat and Health Research Incubator at the University of Sydney aims to build on our recent funding and publication successes in this area of research, by fostering multi-disciplinary collaborations to conduct high-impact research projects that develop comprehensive solutions to the most complex health problems associated with exposure to extreme heat and hot weather.
Professor Ollie Jay

“This will involve broadening the scope of what we do by engaging industrial partners, policymakers, healthcare professionals, and local communities, as well as academic researchers with expertise on topics like public health, climate science, maternal and child health, pharmacological sciences, urban planning, mental health and many others,” says Associate Professor Zhang.

Another key priority is to grow research capacity in the area of heat and health by supporting early and mid-career researchers in their activities.

An example of collaborative research Professor Ollie Jay is already conducting with the aid of the Incubator and colleagues from Griffith University and Bangladesh is a project seeking to address the working conditions of ready-made factory workers.

The project, titled ‘Managing heat stress among Bangladesh ready-made clothing industry workers’, seeks to tackle the pressing issue within the ready-made garment industry of physical working conditions for individuals who are paid based on output.

Replicating the working conditions in garment factories using the state-of-the-art climate chamber at the University's Susan Wakil Health Building.

“When you’re exposed to extreme heat, you naturally slow down, so people have to stay for longer at work to get paid the same amount,” explains Professor Jay.

“We know that the solutions currently in place are inadequate, so we’re trying to figure out which sustainable cooling strategies can be applied in that environment to keep workers cooler, make them feel comfortable, and reduce the risk of illness and injury. We want to make sure it resembles real life as much as possible.

“Ultimately what we want to do is be able to translate these findings back into the factory environment where we improve the health and wellbeing of the people that are working in these types of settings,” says Professor Jay.

As well as this, the Incubator is conducting several other projects that are focused on building resilience to a warming planet across the human lifespan, identifying optimal sustainable cooling strategies to protect the most vulenrable during heatwaves, developing an evidence-based extreme heat policy for child and youth sport, and developing a new heat stress scale for reducing personal health risk during heatwave disasters.

Amid stark projections about the increasing effects of climate change, urgent investment in research and measures to combat the risks of extreme heat is critical if society is to not only survive, but thrive, in a hotter world.

The University of Sydney Heat and Health Research Incubator is ensuring that we have the tools and policies in place to do just that.

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