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University of Colorado Denver College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

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Health Effects of Living at Altitude


Health Effects

DEBORAH THOMAS, BENJAMIN HONIGMAN AND ROBERT ROACH

This research represents a cross-campus collaboration between GES and the Altitude Research Center at the UCD Anschutz Medical Campus, which is one of the world's leading centers examining the health effects of hypoxia. In the traditional sense, altitude as a hazard does not arise from a natural event or failures in human-created systems. Instead, altitude as an environmental condition is pervasive and relatively static. So, how does it present an environmental health hazard? In reality, people's use of the environment when living or traveling to moderate and high altitudes exposes them to lower oxygen concentrations, which in turn impacts health. Most studies on hypoxia have focused on the physiological effects of extreme hypoxia, but the effects of living in and traveling to moderate altitudes on various disease outcomes are of increasing interest. As an illustration, Colorado exhibits some extremely interesting health trends in the national context. For instance, when looking at life expectancy, 15 of the top 50 U.S. counties are in Colorado according to a recent Harvard study. While Colorado has a lower mortality rate than the U.S. for stroke, heart disease and many types of cancer, respiratory diseases, multiple sclerosis, and suicides all exhibit significantly higher rates than other parts of the country. This research frames altitude as an environmental hazard and focuses on moderate altitude, human use of these environments and effects on various health outcomes, including longevity, birth weight, and RSV.