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Study Links Housing Instability to Increased Child and Caregiver Health Risks

A study by Megan Sandel, Richard Sheward, Stephanie Ettinger de Cuba, and others published in Pediatrics, “Unstable Housing and Caregiver and Child Health in Renter Families,” finds that housing instability puts children and their caretakers at greater risk of poor health and material hardships. Thirty-four percent of 22,324 households surveyed through a medical clinic or emergency department had experienced housing instability, defined as having fallen behind on rent or moved more than twice in the past year, or having a child experience homelessness. The study’s results suggest that health practitioners should screen for housing instability as a risk factor for adverse health.

Of the households surveyed, 27% reported being behind on rent, 8% had made multiple moves in the past year, and 12% reported current or past homelessness within a child’s lifetime. Eighty-six percent of those who had experienced housing instability experienced only one of these circumstances. Two-thirds of households who experienced housing instability were behind on their rent. Households behind on their rent have health risks similar to those who experience homelessness or multiple moves. “[Being behind on rent] should be something doctors pay attention to when screening patients for housing instability, as it hasn’t been recognized as a factor in the past,” stated to Dr. Sandel, a pediatrician and researcher at Children’s HealthWatch.

All three measures of housing instability were associated with a greater risk of fair or poor health of children and their caregivers and of maternal depressive symptoms. Multiple moves and homelessness were also associated with greater child developmental risk. All three measures of housing instability were associated with material hardships, including food insecurity, energy insecurity, and foregone health care.

“Unstable Housing and Caregiver and Child Health in Renter Families” is available at: