1:58pm

Wed April 11, 2012
Health, Science, Environment

The toll foreclosures take on public health

Researchers have been starting to study how the recession will affect our health in the coming years. Dr. Sanjay Basu is a researcher at UCSF. KALW's Ben Trefny visited him at San Francisco General Hospital and asked him how he has seen impoverished conditions conspire to bring down one’s physical and emotional health.

DR. SANJAY BASU: Well one of the main things that we see is people have to choose between paying for maintaining their health and paying for other necessities of daily living, like housing, food, and the major concerns that we have is that people get increasing stress, have to work more jobs, and really descend into poverty that they often have higher blood pressure and that has downstream effects on their kidneys and heart, which means they're paying more for preventative medications for heart attacks and often have heart attacks and kidney diseases as well, so the costs really rack up. Similarly, really healthy food tends to be more expensive than cheaper food and the junk foods and we see a significant rise in obesity among the poor as well. So the costs really seem to rack up.  Being healthy can be an expensive pursuit at times and can sometimes be a luxury when you're struggling to make ends meet.

BEN TREFNY: How do physical environments such as blighted buildings and buildings which have not been maintained, basically environments that have been neglected in an economic downturn, how does that affect somebody?

BASU: Well, we started to notice this in the 1980s when there were a lot of studies of asthma in children living in public housing units and it was pretty directly connected to the issue of the levels of dust and poor building quality and chemicals in the environment.  A famous set of studies in Boston for that really minimally expensive improvements to those public housing buildings dramatically improved hospitalization rates for those kids to the point where it was not just improving public health, but also saving costs for the city to improve that public housing. And since those studies we've learned a lot about how housing conditions affect tuberculosis and other infectious diseases, as well as how living in a particular community can affect your likelihood of eating healthy food or exercising. If you live in an unsafe area or an area cut off from a supermarket, what we call food insecurity or food deserts, that can really affect your outcomes in terms of how likely you are to be obese, to control your diabetes, to get exercise on a day-to-day basis.  I have a lady in clinic who is really trying to cut down on her weight but she lives in an area with so much violence that it's difficult for her to get out of her house and still feel safe, which is an understandable concern.

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