A recent study published by the American Journal of Public Health establishes a positive correlation between housing insecurity and poor health among very young children. The study, which uses overcrowding in homes and multiple moves as indicators of housing insecurity, reveals that children living in households that move frequently are at a greater risk for poor health (18%) than children living in housing secure households (11%). Furthermore, 22% of caregivers in households reporting multiple moves within a single year also reported developmental risks affecting their children, whereas only 14% of caregivers in housing secure households reported similar risks.
The study also shows a direct statistical link between housing insecurity and food insecurity, as measured by self-reported child hunger or poor diet. Across the sample of households analyzed, 12% of families living in overcrowded conditions and 16% of families with multiple moves experienced food insecurity as opposed to 9% of families with secure housing. Researchers note that food insecurity increases health risks including anemia, development delays, and elevates the risk of hospitalization. Housing insecurity, especially coupled with food insecurity, serves to magnify the effects of the health risks resulting from poor nutrition.
According to the researchers, multiple moves have a more severe negative impact on children’s health than overcrowding, because frequent movers may lack the social ties needed to move in with friends and relatives in a time of crisis and face greater housing uncertainty. In contrast, researchers suggest that overcrowding indicates access to social supports that provide a temporary coping mechanism to prevent homelessness.
The authors suggest that policies and programs designed to alleviate the impact of housing insecurity can have a long term positive impact on the health prospects of young children. In particular, they highlight that families receiving energy or housing subsidies are less likely to move frequently and live in a crowded homes, thus reducing their risks for long term health problems.
The study covered seven states and a sample of about 22,000 caregivers with children younger than three years old who visited Children’s HealthWatch sites in central city medical centers between years 1998 and 2007. Since most of the sample is drawn from emergency rooms and hospital-based clinics, the sample does not represent all low income children.
The paper, US Housing Insecurity and the Health of Very Young Children, can be found at: http://www.childrenshealthwatch.org/upload/resource/ushousingandchildhealth_ajph_dc_aug11.pdf