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Vulnerable Populations

Certain populations are more vulnerable to changing climate effects. The term "vulnerable populations" refers to people or groups that may be more susceptible to the health effects of climate change. Factors that are considered in identifying such populations include health status, age, economic resources, social support, and location (e.g., proximity to the coast/flood plain, access to community services). Vulnerable populations are commonly identified as children, the elderly, people with disabilities, low-income groups, and persons with certain health conditions (e.g. cardiovascular/respiratory disease), but can include others such as people with language parries or those who live in economically disadvantaged communities. 

When considering the health impacts of climate change, it is important to identify individuals that may be more susceptible. One of the projected climate change impacts is an increase in extreme heat events. People with cardiovascular/respiratory disease, the elderly, the young, or people with disabilities may be more susceptible to heat stress because their bodies may not work as efficiently to bring the body temperature down during hot days.

Baseline Profile

When seeking to identify vulnerable population, it is important to first characterize the baseline health status of the population. A baseline community health profile also allows for comparisons between groups to determine how certain groups differ in their health status. Assessing the baseline conditions of a population can include looking at indicators of health, as well as social, economic, and environmental determinants of health. The Massachusetts Environmental Public Health Tracking (EPHT) Portal includes a number of indicators that will assist local health officials in assessing the baseline profile of their communities (See table below). Developing a community health profile can help predict the needs of the population. For example, children with pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma, are more likely to be impacted from changes in air quality, including temperature and ozone. Using information available on the EPHT Portal and other resources, local health and community members can review current pediatric asthma rates and geographic patterns where rates may be higher to understand the implications increases in ozone or particulate matter may have on these children.

Data Geography Data Sources Methods
  • Asthma (inpatient and ED)
  • Myocardial infarction
  • Heat Stress


Hospitalization data from MDPH/ BEH EPHT Portal1

Rate of health outcomes in study area by community for 2008-2010

  • Congestive heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Hypertension


Hospitalization data from Center for Health Information and Analysis

Rate of health outcomes in study area by zip code for 2008-2010

  • Pediatric asthma
  • Pediatric diabetes

Grades K - 8 in Community

EPHT Portal1

Prevalence rates in 2009-2010; 2010-2011; 2011-2012.

  • Adult obesity data
  • Adult hypertension
  • Adult diabetes
  • No exercise



Outcomes for 2009

  • Ozone
  • Particulate matter (PM2.5)


EPHT Portal 1

Number of days over NAAQS and Number of person-days over the NAAQS for for 2000-2011

  1. Environmental Public Health Tracking portal is a web-based portal housed at MPDH/BEH that contains a variety of data including health data, environmental data, and health promotion information (e.g., bike trails, walking trails)
  2. Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System is an annual survey of health issues, health conditions, risk factors, and behaviors


Vulnerability Mapping Tool

A key feature of Step 1 of the Building Resilience Against Climate Change Effects (BRACE) framework is to provide information to local officials about the populations that are most vulnerable to changing climate effects. Equipped with this information, local officials can work with community residents to better prepare for climate effects. To support such work, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Health, Bureau of Environmental Health has created an interactive mapping system that identifies vulnerable populations at the municipal and census tract levels. The mapping portal can be found here.

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