Nov 4 2013
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APHA 2013: The Role of Housing in Public Health

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When thinking about ways to improve the public's health, housing may not leap to mind at first. Reducing obesity, increasing access to healthy food and promoting tobacco control are all more popular and more obvious public health strategies. But in the past several years, leaders in the field are realizing the vital role that housing can also play in health.

So why is housing so important for health? And how can we create "healthy housing" for the public? That was the focus of Monday's American Public Health Association (APHA) panel, "Landscape of Healthy Housing: Strategies, Policies, and Initiatives."

Panelists from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to Maryland's Green and Healthy Homes Initiative to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) discussed issues ranging from lead-based paint hazards, to smoke-free housing, to infrastructure problems—and how all of these impact health.

Chris Trent, who's worked on HUD's Advancing Healthy Housing a Strategy for Action, asked: "Do we really have to be concerned about our homes? Yes, we do. There are 23 million housing units with one or more lead-based paint hazards. Six million housing units in the U.S. have moderate-to-severe physical infrastructure problems."

She also re-emphasized why housing is so important to health for everybody, even if we don't think about it: 69 percent of our time is spent in a residence, and therefore housing automatically impacts how healthy people are.

Trent also pointed out the return on investment (ROI) in creating healthy housing for people. "We know these [healthy housing strategies] are working. There is a return on your investment that is beneficial to everybody."

For example, she noted, spending $1 on preventing lead hazards lead to a $17-$221 savings in health costs.

Ruth Ann Norton, Executive Director of Green & Healthy Homes Initiative, noted the impact that unhealthy housing can have on people— especially children and their education.

"The largest reason kids don't come to school is asthma," she pointed out. "And this asthma is often coming from their home environment. We need to break the link between unhealthy housing and unhealthy children."

"All of these housing issues are health issues," Norton said.

>>NewPublicHealth will be on the ground throughout the APHA conference speaking to public health leaders and presenters, hearing from attendees on the ground and providing updates from sessions, with a focus on how we can build a culture of health. Follow the coverage here.

Tags: APHA, Asthma, Housing, Housing/public housing