Unpacking the inter- and intra-urban differences of the association between health and exposure to heat and air quality in Australia using global and local machine learning models

Siqin WANG, Wenhui CAI, Yaguang TAO, Qian Chayn SUN*, Paulina Pui Yun WONG, Xiao HUANG, Yan LIU

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

Abstract

Environmental stressors including high temperature and air pollution cause health problems. However, understanding how the combined exposure to heat and air pollution affects both physical and mental health remains insufficient due to the complexity of such effects mingling with human society, urban and natural environments. Our study roots in the Social Ecological Theory and employs a tri-environmental conceptual framework (i.e., across social, built and natural environment) to examine how the combined exposure to heat and air pollution affect self-reported physical and mental health via, for the first time, the fine-grained nationwide investigation in Australia and highlight how such effects vary across inter- and intra-urban areas. We conducted an ecological study to explore the importance of heat and air quality to physical and mental health by considering 48 tri-environmental confounders through the global and local random forest regression models, as advanced machine learning methods with the advantage of revealing the spatial heterogeneity of variables. Our key findings are threefold. First, the social and built environmental factors are important to physical and mental health in both urban and rural areas, and even more important than exposure to heat and air pollution. Second, the relationship between temperature and air quality and health follows a V-shape, reflecting people's different adaptation and tolerance to temperature and air quality. Third, the important roles that heat and air pollution play in physical and mental health are most obvious in the inner-city and near inner-city areas of the major capital cities, as well as in the industrial zones in peri-urban regions and in Darwin city with a low-latitude. We draw several policy implications to minimise the inter- and intra-urban differences in healthcare access and service distribution to populations with different sensitivity to heat and air quality across urban and rural areas. Our conceptual framework can also be applied to examine the relationship between other environmental problems and health outcomes in the era of a warming climate.
Original languageEnglish
Article number162005
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Volume871
Early online date10 Feb 2023
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study is supported by the Australian Urban Research Infrastructure Network (AURIN) High Impact Project 2022 “Nationwide Longitudinal Database for Emerging CALD Communities and Social-Environmental Inequities”.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023

Copyright © 2023 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Keywords

  • Air quality
  • Built environment
  • Geographically weighted random forest
  • Heat
  • Mental health
  • Self-reported physical health
  • Social environment

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