Improving Women’ Health and Performance by Mitigating Heat Strain

Dr Jessica Mee has been announced as one of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Leaders Fellows. This scheme is aimed at recruiting and retaining the rising stars of research and innovation, attracting the brightest and best from the UK and across the world. These prestigious awards offer four to seven years of funding for early career researchers and innovators. Jessica’s fellowship, and programme of research, has the overarching aim of improving females’ health and performance by mitigating and managing heat strain. This will be in collaboration with Dr Neil Maxwell a Reader of Applied Environmental Physiology and partnered with Professor Ollie Jay (University of Sydney) and Dr Emma Ross (The Well HQ). This research is more important than ever with our warming climate, and to make step to create gender equality within this domain of research since most of our evidence comes from studies using male participants. It is imperative to ensure future heat mitigation and management guidelines draw from bespoke, female-based data. This programme of research will not only improve understanding of how to mitigate and manage heat strain in females, but also kickstart more research into the area.

Climate change refers to the long-term shift in global temperatures, which may occur naturally, but human activities relating to burning fossil fuels is considered a main driver. As a result, the frequency and intensity of heat waves is increasing, exposing humans to unseasonable and dangerously high temperatures which harms our health. In the UK during the five heat-periods in 2022, where temperatures exceeded 40°C, more than 3,000 excess deaths were reported which is estimated to increase to over 7,000 by 2050. Heat illnesses are largely avoidable with the implementation of appropriate, effective, accessible, and sustainable heat mitigation strategies combined with appropriate education. However, traditional heat mitigation strategies are often not accessible to some of the most vulnerable such as in areas of poverty and in occupations involving outside activity. Some of these traditional strategies also contribute to greenhouse gas emissions which increase the risk of future extreme heat events. Thus, this programme of research will be looking at sustainable and accessible strategies to mitigate and manage heat strain.

Females are known to have increased heat sensitives due to a reduced sweating capacity, their body morphology, and hormonal changes associated with the menstrual cycle and menopause which causes changes in thermoregulatory responses. The issue with the current heat mitigation and management research is that there is a clear under-representation of females as study participants. This is likely due to the additional complexity, time and expense associated with menstruate status, so an improved understanding of females in this area where the studies adopt robust and high-quality research methods is an urgent priority. This programme of research will initially audit exiting research and conduct a survey and focus group to confirm the research priorities. The research will then evaluate heat mitigation and management strategies on a range of females, from those who are sedentary, physically active, and trained, as well as those of different body sizes, ages, and menstrual states. Participants health and performance will be evaluated using a bespoke environmental chamber housed in the School of Science and Environment, including looking at their productivity and how present they are in the workplace. The research team will also create bespoke female educational resources and practical guidelines on how best to mitigate and manage heat strain. This fellowship will also be used as a vehicle to change the landscape and encourage more female researchers in this domain and conduct more studies using female participants. This award will exponentially fast track Jessica’s research career with the long-term backing, which will give her the time and resources to generate high quality research and impact momentum. Through this fellowship Jessica will establish research independence by developing and leading the Female Environmental Extremes Laboratory (FEEL) community and extending her local, national, and international connections and collaborations. Collectively, this will nurture long-term successful collaboration and provide the foundations for delivering on a long-lasting ambitious research career. This is a fantastic opportunity that will extend her international profile in this critically important field and establish her as dynamic, resourceful, and empathetic leader that will inspire future generations.

Dr Jessica Mee

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