Date of Award

January 2022

Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Public Health (MPH)


School of Public Health

First Advisor

Kai Chen


Adverse health outcomes caused by extreme heat represent the most direct human health threat associated with the warming of the Earth’s climate. Socioeconomic, demographic, health, land cover, and temperature determinants contribute to heat vulnerability; however, nationwide patterns of residential and race/ethnicity disparities in heat vulnerability in the United States are poorly understood. This study aimed to develop a Heat Vulnerability Index (HVI) for the United States; to assess differences in heat vulnerability across geographies that have experienced historical and/or contemporary forms of marginalization; and to quantify HVI by race/ethnicity. Principal components analysis (PCA) was used to calculate census tract level HVI scores based on the 2019 population characteristics of the United States. Differences in HVI scores were analyzed across the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) “redlining” grades, the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool (CEJST) disadvantaged versus non-disadvantaged communities, and race/ethnicity groups. HVI scores were calculated for 55,267 U.S. census tracts. Mean HVI scores were 17.56, 18.61, 19.45, and 19.93 for HOLC grades ‘A’ – ‘D,’ respectively. CEJST-defined disadvantaged census tracts had a significantly higher mean HVI score (19.13) than non-disadvantaged tracts (16.68). The non-Hispanic African American or Black race/ethnicity group had the highest HVI score (18.51), followed by Hispanic or Latino (18.19). Historically redlined and contemporary CEJST disadvantaged census tracts and communities of color were found to be associated with increased vulnerability to heat. These findings can help promote equitable climate change adaptation policies by informing policymakers about the national distribution of place- and race/ethnicity-based disparities in heat vulnerability.


This is an Open Access Thesis.

Open Access

This Article is Open Access