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Margaret Loughnan

Margaret Loughnan

PhD 2004 - 2008

Supervisor Panel members

Professor Nigel Tapper

Professor Neville Nicholls

Professor Peter Cameron (Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences)

Research Focus

Environmental health. My research interests focus on weather and climate related impacts on public health, with a special interest in social and environmental epidemiology and heat stress, and the spatial determinants of health.

Current Research

My particular area of interest is environmental health. My PhD is based upon developing a population-based approach to describe possible relationships between climate and non-fatal acute myocardial infarctions (heart attacks) in Melbourne Australia. My aims are to provide information that has assimilated climactic knowledge into population health outcomes with the aim of identifying the environmental determinants of cardiac events and subsequently contribute to preventative medicine through public education and behavioural adaptation. I feel the economic, social and environmental characteristics of a sustainable society are the same as those required for a healthy society. Therefore, the concepts of health and environmental justice should be foremost in the development of both national and local strategies, which address issues such as climate change. The literature in Australia to date has not been able to provide strong evidence of the impact of climate change on cardiac events. My research argues that population susceptibility to climate change has not been fully assessed and requires alternative approaches and explanations such as the inclusion of confounding factors like population demographics and socio-economic factors. Thus, the best estimation of future health impacts of climate and climate change will necessarily come from assessments based on current understanding of climate on cardiac health that include a larger range of modulating factors. The aim of my project is to use health surveillance data and daily climate data to determine whether any observed changes in heart attack incidence is related to local temperatures. This has been assessed at a seasonal to daily level and threshold temperatures above and below which there are significant increases in heart attacks have been identified. By recognising that the susceptible population is not a homogenous group and is therefore unlikely, to respond to environmental stressors such as climate in a uniform way my study has deconstructed the susceptible population into age and gender groupings as well as specific types of heart attacks. This has lead to the identification of the most vulnerable populations. In addition, this information has been mapped and compared with SEIFA (socio-economic index) thereby presenting information to healthcare providers identifying which groups are most likely to be affected by climate, where they are located and how socio-economic demographics relate to health status and the impact of environmental factors such as climate. I think that this is the type of launching pad that is required to estimate the future health effects of climate change. I have a healthcare background and undertaking a thesis in health geography has provided me with an opportunity to learn from researchers and experts in physical climatological science and share my knowledge of public health with them. I have a keen interest in environmental health and environmental and social justice. This has been demonstrated through my participation in overseas aide projects in Tanzania, Tuvalu, Fiji and Samoa, where I have worked as a nurse and educator with various healthcare teams. In the future, I would like to combine this aide work with my research in developing countries, which are already experiencing an increase in climate related health outcomes such as malaria, diarrhoea and malnutrition.


Journal articles

Loughnan, M., Nicholls, N. and Tapper, N. (2008) "The impact of unseasonable temperature on AMI admissions to hospital in a city with a temperate climate, Melbourne, Australia." International Journal of Biometeorology (submitted June 2008)

Loughnan,M.E., Nicholls, N. and Tapper, N.J. (2008) Demographic, seasonal, and spatial differences in acute myocardial infarction admissions to hospital in Melbourne Australia. International Journal of Health Geographics (accepted June, 2008

Nicholls, N., Skinner, C., Loughnan, M. and Tapper, N. (2008) A simple heat alert system for Melbourne, Australia. International Journal of Biometeorology, 52(5):375-84

Conference proceedings

International Geographic Congress Tunis 2008. Speaker Title Acute Myocardial Admissions to Hospital on "Hot" days.

Monash Climate & Department of Human Services 2006. Developing threshold temperatures for Melbourne.

Victorian Climate Change Adaptation Program 2008. Keynote Speaker Wodonga and Bendigo. Title Defining threshold temperatures and the influences of 'place' on mortality/morbidity during heat events in Australia.

Current projects

Monash Climate & Department of Human Services 2008. Spatial vulnerability analysis of urban extreme heat events.

Monash Climate & Department of Human Services 2008. Developing threshold temperatures for rural regions in Victoria.

Why Monash?

I am inspired by the enthusiasm, passion, knowledge and commitment of everyone in the School. Members of the School always have time for you and never hesitate to help you in any way possible. Studying climate at this time provides an opportunity to learn and develop ideas that can be genuinely useful to the broader community. There are real implications for the outcomes of your work.

What next?

I hope to use the skills gained in my honours year for further research or in part of a corporate or government team.