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Homelessness increases risk for cardiovascular disease, study finds

Researchers say housing instability can be a serious risk to health and well-being

Photo (c) MattGush - Getty Images
While recent studies have highlighted how everything from stress to sleep can increase consumers’ risk for cardiovascular disease, a new study conducted by the American Heart Association (AHA) suggests that homelessness can also play a role. 

The study revealed that not having a stable place to call home can increase consumers’ risk for cardiovascular disease. The researchers say that there are several factors that play into these findings, and it’s important to find ways to make quality housing more accessible. 

“The disparities in cardiovascular health among people who are homeless and marginally housed are largely due to psychosocial stressors, unhealthy behaviors used as coping mechanisms and barriers to health care, including lack of healthcare and stigmatization among this population,” said researcher Mario Sims PhD. 

Barriers to quality housing and improved health

The researchers assessed the effect that homelessness had on consumers’ health and well-being. For this work, the term “homelessness” wasn’t strictly reserved for those on the street or living in shelters but for anyone without a permanent residence. 

According to their findings, those who struggle with their housing situation are at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and there could be several reasons why. 

For starters, many of the housing options available to the homeless or housing insecure population are older structures that aren’t well maintained. This increases the likelihood of mold, poor ventilation, and secondhand smoke, all of which can contribute to health concerns. Breathing in these toxins are bad for anyone’s health, but that risk is amplified when exposure is consistent. 

“Studies have consistently shown that individuals residing in economically distressed neighborhoods with high poverty and unemployment rates have a higher incidence of cardiovascular risk factors, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease, and higher risk of stroke and death from a cardiovascular disease such as heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, and others,” Dr. Sims said. 

Common unhealthy habits 

When it comes to healthy habits, the researchers found that up to 80 percent of the homeless population smokes cigarettes and 25 percent use cocaine, both of which greatly increase the likelihood of cardiovascular disease. The researchers also found that a poor diet is common among those who are homeless, and quality of sleep is typically very low. 

Overall, the researchers explained that the precariousness of housing insecurity can affect consumers in nearly every way, and they hope that these findings highlight how this type of instability is a serious health risk. 

“Chronic housing insecurity may impact a person’s ability to eat properly, get quality sleep, schedule regular medical care, or fill prescriptions due to cost,” said Dr. Sims. 

“These factors all contribute to inadequate treatment to reduce cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and tobacco use, and to the greater likelihood of having a cardiovascular event such as heart attack or stroke.” 

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