When it comes to good health, one of the best prescriptions is stable, decent and affordable housing. That's the key takeaway from a research summary prepared by the Center for Housing Policy that detailed the connections between housing and health explained below.
Families living in housing that is affordable have more money to spend on nutritious food and health care costs. These residents also have a sense of stability, and that means they have less stress and fewer stress-related health problems. And for homeowners, the positive effects of homeownership - particularly on a person's self-esteem and sense of control - can provide better mental health outcomes.
Stable and affordable housing is particularly vital to individuals with chronic illnesses. Having a dependable address and predictable housing costs allows these individuals to maintain routine treatment regimens and access social services without interruption.
The quality of housing also contributes to health outcomes. Residents in substandard or poorly constructed homes are more prone to accidental burns and injuries. Poorly maintained homes often have mold, dust mite, cockroach or rodent problems. These infestations can cause respiratory illnesses, fatigue and headaches.
Children are especially vulnerable to the health effects of unstable or unsafe housing. Dr. Megan Sandel, associate professor of pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine, has spent years researching the important role housing plays in children's health. These are some of her key findings as summarized in an UrbanLand article.
- Moving frequently increases the risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and other chronic diseases.
- Living in homes with cockroaches, mice, or other pests increases the risk of ending up in the hospital.
- Exposure to lead can cause long-term effects that stunt brain development, and exposure to molds, chronic dampness, and tobacco smoke is linked to asthma.
- Living in poor and unsafe neighborhoods increases rates of mental health problems, such as depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome.
That's why Dr. Sandel calls housing a “vaccine” for preventing illnesses and reducing hospital visits. Whether labeled a vaccine or prescription, the positive effects only kick in if housing is stable, decent and affordable.
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