A new study reports that asthmatic children from low-income families who live in “green” housing — as opposed to conventional public housing — had considerably improved asthma symptoms, and fewer asthma attacks and hospitalizations. The study, “Health Benefits of Green Public Housing: Associations with Asthma Morbidity and Building-Related Symptoms,” appeared in Public Health, a publication of the American Health Association.
“Green design incorporates many aspects that could reduce environmental exposures and improve health, such as the removal of pollution sources and the addition of exhaust ventilation,” Meryl D. Colton, MS, researcher at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University, said in a press release. “Our study is unique in that it is the first green housing study large enough to examine changes in some important outcomes such as children’s asthma attacks and hospital visits.”
According to the study’s background, environmental pollutants and morbidities have a higher incidence in low-income housing. Based on this information, Dr. Colton and her team compared the health scores of residents in greener public housing units with those of more conventional public housing.
The researched team surveyed over 200 residents and visually inspected areas to determine residents’ overall health and to check for symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) and asthma-related morbidity. More than 400 inspections were made between March 2012 and May 2013, with a follow-up the following year.
The team found the “green unit” residents had 1.35 fewer SBS symptoms (95% CI, 0.66-2.05) than the other residents, and asthmatic children in green units showed a decreased risk of asthma symptoms (OR = 0.34; 95% CI, 0.12-1), asthma outbreaks (OR = 0.31; 95% CI, 0.11-0.88), school absences related to asthma (OR = 0.21; 95% CI, 0.06-0.74), and hospital visits (OR = 0.24; 95% CI, 0.06-0.88).
“Better buildings and better policies, such as better pest control practices and smoke-free policies, can effectively improve indoor environmental quality and improve health,” said researcher Gary Adamkiewicz, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of environmental health and exposure disparities. “We’re seeing the evidence that these approaches work in practice. We know that housing has a direct and meaningful effect on health. When you improve conditions, you can see the health benefits.”
Previous studies have also shown that poverty is a critical factor in asthma development in children living in urban areas, adding to the argument that environmental and other improvements to public housing can positively affect both the residents’ quality of life and their health.