Florida Researchers: Sea-Level Rise Is Also A Health Threat For Surprising Populations

Jul 11, 2016

Floridians with chronic diseases like asthma and COPD may have one more problem to worry about: sea-level rise.

The Health And Sea Level Rise: Impacts on South Florida report maps out health threats of sea-level rise in South Florida.
Credit Florida Institute for Health Innovation

The Health And Sea Level Rise: Impacts on South Florida report released Monday maps out sea-level rise projections alongside health data from Palm Beach County down to the Keys—and there were some surprises about who’s at risk.

“Typically from the health and public health perspective, we think about vulnerability in terms of lower socioeconomic status, poorer communities etc. But through the lens of climate change and sea-level rise, we found that many of those communities were actually less vulnerable,” says Dr. Roderick King, CEO of the Florida Institute for Health Innovation, which is one of the organizations that worked on the study along with the South Florida Regional Planning Council and Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Environmental Studies. The report was funded by the Kresge Foundation.

King says the researchers found that people who live in coastal communities—which tend to be more affluent—are at risk of getting cut off from health services during big flooding events. Particularly older, less mobile retirees, for example.

But eventually, those communities that already have health disparities by more traditional measures will likely lose their advantage on sea-level rise.

“When the issues for the geographically vulnerable along the coast get worse, they will move and they will displace those that are currently not that vulnerable,” says King. “And so that will probably be the tipping point.”

You can find the results of the study, along with a list of recommendations about what to do next, at the Florida Institute for Health Innovation website