Poor Housing Quality Linked To Higher Incidence of Anxiety And Depression In Children: Is Your Home Impacting Your Kids' Health?

Children outside house
Children living in poor-quality housing are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. Faiyaz Hawawala, CC BY-SA 3.0

Many families in the U.S. turn to substandard housing for affordability. Paying steep prices for living units may provide less of a financial burden for low-income families, but their kids will end up paying the price of poor health. Children, teens, and young adults living in run-down apartments and homes are found to be more susceptible to emotional and behavioral symptoms, such as anxiety and depression, according to a recent study.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) 2011 American Housing Survey found that approximately 50 percent of households (both owners and renters) with children had one or more of the following three housing problems: physically inadequate housing, crowded housing, or cost burden resulting from housing that costs more than 30 percent of household income. These households were ranked as either living with moderate or severe physical housing problems that could leave the inhabitants vulnerable to disease and injury that may be linked to serious psychological stress.

Researchers conducted a study that examined how inadequate housing was linked to a public health crisis by viewing data of the six-year Three City Study of 2,400 children, teens, and young adults living in low-income neighborhoods in Boston, Chicago, and San Antonio. Factors such as housing quality, affordability, ownership, residential stability, and housing subsidy receipt were used as possible predictors of emotional and behavioral problems in low-income children and youth, reports the Boston College Chronicle.

The impact of affordability was found to not be predictive of children’s well-being. Most of the families in the study paid more than 30 percent of their household income toward housing.

Poor housing quality was found to be the most consistent and strongest predictor of symptoms of anxiety, depression, lying, and aggressive behavior in children. These young inhabitants were exposed to leaky roofs, broken windows, peeling paint, debris, and vermin. As a result, they were found to experience greater emotional and behavioral problems at young ages, and their school performance suffered later on.

Residential instability — moving from place to place — was also found to disrupt the functioning of low-income children. Whether or not the move provided a short-term boost for these children by allowing them to have better access to safe housing or good schools, the buildup of housing insecurity would still likely increase emotional and behavioral issues in children.

“There’s a tremendous amount of attention paid to affordability and that’s a critical issue for low-income families,” said Professor Rebekah Levine Coley, lead researcher of the study, to the Boston College Chronicle. “What our findings suggest is that housing quality may be more important when we are concerned with the growth and development of children. The data suggest policymakers make housing quality a priority as they work to resolve the housing crisis facing low-income families.”

In a previous study published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers assessed food insecurity, child health status, developmental risk, weight, and housing insecurity for each child's household to determine the association between housing insecurity and the health of children younger than 3 years old. Residential instability was found to strongly correlate with poor health, lower weight, and developmental risk in young children.  

To determine if you and your family face moderate or severe physical housing problems, check out the American Housing Survey.

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