The Connection Between Housing and Health

Many factors can affect your health. From genetics to lifestyle to diet and pre-existing conditions, you can often pinpoint some of the causes behind health issues. But one element that you might overlook is where you live. In fact, according to data from America’s Health Rankings’ 2017 annual report, there’s an undeniable link between where you live and your health. 

How Housing Relates to Health

The America’s Health Ratings report focuses on data from 2012 through 2017. Based on that data, the report ranks Massachusetts as being the healthiest state, with Hawaii, Vermont, Utah, and Connecticut following. Meanwhile, the states listed as having the poorest health were Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, and West Virginia. 

These rankings were based on multiple criteria. States were evaluated on aspects like the percentage of their population who are smokers or who are uninsured. The state’s air pollution and the number of children in poverty were also weighed. Preventable hospitalizations, obesity, violent crime, drug deaths, cancer deaths, infant mortality, and cardiovascular deaths were some of the other factors that were used in assessing and ranking the states in terms of overall health. 

Why the disparity between health in different states? Many factors likely contribute to the link between where you live and how healthy you’re likely to be. 

Access to Quality Health Care

When people have limited access to quality healthcare, naturally and expectedly, their health can suffer. However, just having nominal access to nurses and other healthcare providers who can increase patients’ knowledge about preventative care, overall wellness practices, and potential health risks. And thus, patients are more likely to seek out care for issues early on in the process when they’ve already established care at a doctor’s office. This means issues can be caught and treated before they’ve had time to develop and grow more severe. Physical examinations, immunizations, and preventative screenings can help to avoid or reduce the number of significant health issues a certain population experiences. 

Unfortunately, accessing healthcare isn’t always practical or possible for some populations. In fact, there are many barriers actually keeping people from seeking out preventative care. For one, people who live in rural areas or who have a lack of transportation may be physically unable to seek out regular care. Further, understanding how health care really works can leave people feeling discouraged, especially when they discover that they may need to wait weeks or months before seeing a doctor.

Poor public education and general mistrust of doctors may also contribute to this issue. 

Paying for health care is another significant barrier. People who don’t have insurance, or who have insurance that doesn’t cover specific needed procedures, may be reluctant to seek out care at all, and they may not get the procedures that they need. Paying for medications, like insulin, can be a financial strain on families, and some people may choose to go without or to ration the medications that they need, making their health conditions worse. Singer-payer health care may be the answer to this barrier, but no health care payment model is perfect. 

Income Disparities

Finances can affect health in other ways, too. People living in low-income areas or states likely have access only to lower-paying careers, and their access to health care is probably limited, too. For instance, income disparities for the elderly can affect their health and their quality of life. Wealth has been shown to directly correlate with life expectancy. In 1980, a 50-year-old man who was wealthy would live, on average, 5.1 years longer than a man of the same age who was poor. Today, that disparity in life expectancy has increased to over 12 years. 

With limited incomes, families are more likely to eat unhealthy foods and have nutritionally imbalanced diets. This lower-quality diet can have lasting implications, especially for children, increasing their risk of diabetes, heart issues, and other health problems. 

When seniors, or even the general public, have limited incomes, the quality of care they can access is often limited, as well. Patients may not be able to cover copays for recommended tests and procedures and may have to settle for nursing homes or assisted living facilities that accommodate low-income individuals and offer lower-quality care. 

Physical Space and Health Safety

The quality of the physical space where someone lives also affects their overall health and wellness. Buildings with structural issues can lead to leaks and mold, jeopardizing the inhabitants’ health. Asbestos and lead paint exposure are other common concerns in older residences, especially in low-income areas where residents or building owners may attempt to do their own renovation work without being aware of the risks the materials pose. 

Buildings in need of maintenance or repair may also have pest problems. Pests can create all sorts of health problems for humans, and an infestation is both unsanitary and a health risk. Getting rid of pests, like cockroaches, is usually a multi-step process. Residents will need to identify how the pests are getting in and what’s attracting them, and then make changes to habits in order to both remove current pests and prevent new ones from accessing the home. 

The air quality of a building also affects health. Indoor pollutants, like chemicals, are common in buildings, meaning that air circulation and ventilation is essential to residents’ health. Poor air quality can cause symptoms like headaches, dizziness, and fatigue, and air pollutants can aggravate asthma and potentially contribute to some cancers. While individual homeowners have control over their home’s air quality, residents of apartment complexes depend on their landlords to make appropriate changes and repairs to the building’s heating and cooling system. 

Stress and Health

Stress can also dramatically affect health, driving up blood pressure, negatively impacting sleep, and potentially leading to other health issues, too. A high-stress job, financial problems, an unsafe living situation, or upcoming significant life changes, like the birth of a child or a divorce, can all increase stress levels. People who live in a neighborhood with a high crime rate may experience more stress than people who live in a safer location may. The same is true of people who live in an area with a struggling economy, since they may worry about job security and finances. 

Creating a stress-free environment can help to minimize the health effects that stress can have on an individual. Strategies like decluttering a home or office, using an essential oil diffuser, and identifying and eliminating the source of stress are all important first steps in managing and minimizing stress. 

Environment Effects on Health

The environment affects health in many different ways. While there are likely many more factors that affect the state health rankings across the nation, when you break the list down into some of the elements covered above, it’s easier to understand how where you live can affect your health. To maximize your chances of a long and healthy life, you might want to consider those state health rankings when deciding where you want to spend your life. 

Author Bio: Sam Bowman writes about people, tech, wellness and how they merge. He enjoys getting to utilize the internet for community without actually having to leave his house. In his spare time he likes running, reading, and combining the two in a run to his local bookstore.

Image Source: Pixabay