Being warm enough at home might lead to better health, according to a new review appearing online in the American Journal of Public Health.
Hilary Thomson, of the Medical Research Council's Social and Public Health Sciences Unit in Glasgow, Scotland, and her colleagues combined the results of 40 studies from the 1930s through 2007. Improvements in general, mental, and respiratory health followed increases in warmth of a person's housing, studies showed.
Positive effects included reductions in breathing-related concerns such as cold and flu symptoms, first diagnosis of nasal allergies and wheezing and dry coughs at night. Better heating also appeared to have on impact on first diagnosis of high blood pressure and heart disease, and there were also indications of less depression or anxiety.
"Those who live in poor housing are at a greater risk of developing chronic disease and premature death," Thomson said. "For the public health community there is the potential to use investment to improve housing conditions as a means to improve the health of the worst off."
The best bet for bringing about these effects might be programs "targeted at individual households which are known to have poor housing conditions or contain people with health problems," Thomson said. Health-wise, at least, no downside exists: "There is little evidence that housing investment leads to poorer health or other detrimental effects."
David Jacobs, Ph.D., research director at the National Center for Healthy Housing in Washington, D.C., said the results of this study are timely.
"There is a lot of weatherization work being undertaken as part of the economic stimulus and efforts to combat climate change," he said. "Most of the focus is on energy savings. The health implications are an additional, unrecognized plus that this review brings out."
Jacobs said that the review was limited, in that it did not discuss the many studies showing positive outcomes of housing interventions such as lead and radon reduction or elimination of asthma-associated allergens.
- Thomson et al. The Health Impacts of Housing Improvement: A Systematic Review of Intervention Studies From 1887 to 2007. American Journal of Public Health, 2009; 99 (s3): S681 DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2008.143909
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