HUD: Concentrated poverty "bad for your health"

(CBS/The Early Show)

(CBS/The Early Show)

WASHINGTON (WVLT) -- A recent study of very-low income women who moved from high-poverty neighborhoods to low-poverty ones “proves that concentrated poverty is not only bad policy, it’s bad for your health,” according to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan.

Donovan based hi assertion on an article in an upcoming issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) which demonstrated that by offering very poor families a chance to move to areas with less poverty can have a positive impact on their physical health.

“Far too often, we can predict a family’s overall health, even their life expectancy, by knowing their zip code. But it’s not enough to simply move families into different neighborhoods," Donovan said.

Back in the 1990s, the federal government tried an unusual social experiment: It offered thousands of poor women in big-city public housing a chance to live in more affluent neighborhoods.

A decade later, the results show that women who relocated had lower rates of diabetes and extreme obesity. Those differences are being hailed as compelling evidence that where you live can determine your health, especially if your home is in a low-income area with few safe places to exercise, limited food options and meager medical services.

The experiment was initially aimed at researching whether moving impoverished families to more prosperous areas could improve employment or schooling. But a study released Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine looked primarily at the women's physical condition.

The article, “Neighborhoods, Obesity, and Diabetes — A Randomized Social Experiment,” will appear in the October 20th issue of NEJM.

The study, which was paid for by HUD and conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), examines the long-term impact of housing mobility on obesity and diabetes from the HUD study Moving to Opportunity for Fair Housing Demonstration Program: Final Evaluation.

The findings featured in the NEJM article showed that giving very poor families the opportunity to move to neighborhoods with lower poverty can have a positive impact on the physical health of adult women.

 The women who were not offered vouchers through this study had a prevalence rate of 18 percent for extreme obesity, much larger than the national average for women of approximately 7 percent. Women who were given the opportunity to move with housing vouchers to low-poverty neighborhoods showed a significantly reduced rate of extreme obesity – 3.4 percentage points lower – than the women who did not receive vouchers. This means women with the opportunity to move were nearly one fifth less likely to be extremely obese than were women who were not offered a housing voucher through MTO.

"We must continue to look for innovative and strategic ways to connect families to the necessary supports they need to break the cycle of poverty that can quite literally make them sick.”

Some of the study's findings (as pointed out by HUD):

  • The prevalence rate for diabetes for the group of women who were not offered vouchers through the study was 20 percent, compared to the national average for women of 12 percent. For the group of women with the opportunity to move to low-poverty neighborhoods, the prevalence rate was 5.2 percentage points lower (as measured by glycated hemoglobin) than the women who did not receive housing vouchers. This means women with the opportunity to move were one fifth less likely to have diabetes than women who were not offered a housing voucher through the MTO study.

  • HUD’s study tested the long-term health impacts of approximately 4,500 very low-income families living in public housing projects in high-poverty neighborhoods in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.

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