Map of Simcoe Muskoka


Sensitivity and Susceptibility

While everyone will be impacted by the effects of climate change, factors like sex, age, income, education, and pre-existing health status contribute to an individual’s sensitivity and susceptibility to climate impacts. For example, pre-existing health conditions, like asthma or mental illness can be worsened by climate change. Living in low socioeconomic conditions, or being under-housed or homeless, heightens climate change health risks because these conditions can increase exposure to climate hazards.

Sensitivity and susceptibility to climate change refer to the degree to which individuals or populations are affected by the health impacts of climate change. Indicators of sensitivity and susceptibility highlight that climate change effects will be felt differently based on a number of biological, social, and environmental factors. These factors are referred to as ‘determinants of health’. Importantly, these factors may intersect, further compounding the health effects of climate change.

This section links to sensitivity and susceptibility indicators. This information is useful in helping to understand health inequities and populations most at risk to the health effects of climate change.

Most of this information is updated every five years in line with the Canadian census.

The following topics related to climate change sensitivity and susceptibility are covered in this section:

  • Total population: Population statistics provide demographic information for Simcoe Muskoka. In the context of climate change, this helps us to understand the total population at risk to the effects of climate change hazards as well as the geographic distribution of the population in the region.
    • Population distribution by age and sex: Population attributes such as age and sex can determine sensitivity to climate change. Infants, children, seniors, and women tend to be more at-risk to the impacts of climate change.
    • Population growth: Population growth statistics help us to understand where the region is growing fastest. This information helps us to understand changes in population, and to help us understand where health resources will be needed based on estimates of growth.
  • Determinants of health:The determinants of health are a range of biological, environmental, social, and economic factors that influence individual and population health status. Understanding these factors and how these factors interact, helps us to understand susceptibility and sensitivity to the effects of climate change.
    • Income: Income levels can impact our ability to prepare for and respond to climate events. Individuals living with low income tend to have fewer available resources to protect themselves from climate change effects. Climate change hazards, such as floods and wildfires that cause damage to homes and businesses, can also affect income levels.
    • Education: Education is an important factor for climate change and health protection. Limited education and/or low literacy rates can reduce an individual’s capacity to undertake necessary precautions when environmental alerts or warnings are issued.
    • Food security: Climate change has the potential to impact food affordability and food availability, particularly after severe storms, droughts, and floods. Food insecurity contributes to poor physical and mental health in adults and children. Residents already experiencing food insecurity will be further impacted by climate change impacts to food availability and affordability.
    • Housing: People who are underhoused (e.g. living in inadequeate, unstable, or unsafe housing conditions) or homeless are more likely to be impacted by climate change hazards because they are less likely to have adequate shelter to protect them from the effects of climate change and may be more vulnerable to health impacts.
  • Chronic diseases: Chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes impact an individual’s ability to cope with climate-related events. Chronic diseases compromise an individual’s health, and contribute to their sensitivity and susceptibility to climate change hazards – particularly extreme heat, severe storms, and poor air quality.
  • Mental health: Climate change can negatively impact mental health. Research suggests that climate change can increase the risk of anxiety and depression, and climate change can further compound pre-existing mental illnesses. Impacts of climate change can also create barriers to mental well-being (such as loss of community) which can impact the capacity to cope with a disaster or change.