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Housing instability negatively affects the health of children and caregivers

January 22, 2018

BOSTON - When families don't have stable housing, their risk of struggling with poor health outcomes and material hardships, such as food insecurity, increases, according to a new study from Children's HealthWatch. Researchers surveyed over 22,000 families and found that one third of low-income renters were housing unstable, which was associated with negative impacts on their health.

To determine housing instability, researchers asked families if they had been behind on rent or moved more than twice in the past year, and if their child had experienced homelessness. All three circumstances were associated with increased odds of adverse health outcomes, such as poor caregiver health, poor child health, maternal depressive symptoms, and food and energy insecurity, when compared to families with stable housing.

"Two-thirds of the families who said they were housing insecure were behind on rent in the past year," said Megan Sandel, MD, MPH, principal investigator at Children's HealthWatch and associate director of the GROW Clinic at Boston Medical Center (BMC). "This 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."

The study also explored how multiple unstable housing circumstances affected family health. They found as the number of adverse housing circumstances increased, the odds of child and caregiver health risks also increased. However, there was limited overlap between the three circumstances, with 86 percent of families only experiencing one circumstance.

"Asking questions specific to all three circumstances can help providers asses both individual and community health and housing needs, and identify families who are at risk of poor health associated with housing instability," added Sandel. "Since there is little overlap in the circumstances, it is vital to assess each circumstance to keep families from slipping through the cracks."

Families were surveyed in five urban medical centers in Baltimore, MD, Minneapolis, MN, Boston, MA, Little Rock, AR, and Philadelphia, PA. All of the families were renters and had public health insurance or were uninsured. The study is published online in Pediatrics.
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About Children's Health Watch

Children's HealthWatch is a nonpartisan network of pediatricians, public health researchers, and children's health policy experts committed to improving children's health in America by collecting data on children from families facing economic hardship at urban hospitals across the country. Their goal is to inform public policies and practices that give all children equal opportunities for healthy, successful lives.

About Boston Medical Center

Boston Medical Center is a private, not-for-profit, 487-bed, academic medical center that is the primary teaching affiliate of Boston University School of Medicine. It is the largest and busiest provider of trauma and emergency services in New England. Committed to providing high-quality health care to all, the hospital offers a full spectrum of pediatric and adult care services including primary and family medicine and advanced specialty care with an emphasis on community-based care. Boston Medical Center offers specialized care for complex health problems and is a leading research institution, receiving more than $117 million in sponsored research funding in fiscal year 2016. It is the 13th largest recipient of funding in the U.S. from the National Institutes of Health among independent hospitals. In 1997, BMC founded Boston Medical Center Health Plan, Inc., now one of the top ranked Medicaid MCOs in the country, as a non-profit managed care organization. It does business in Massachusetts as BMC HealthNet Plan and as Well Sense Health Plan in New Hampshire, serving 290,000 people, collectively. Boston Medical Center and Boston University School of Medicine are partners in the Boston HealthNet - 14 community health centers focused on providing exceptional health care to residents of Boston. For more information, please visit http://www.bmc.org.

Boston Medical Center

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