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Healthy homes lead to healthy lives

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Ahead of the New Zealand General Election on 20 September, we are publishing material from a Christchurch-based group of Christians suggesting a ‘Gospel Manifesto’. Experts will focus Christian voters on the teaching of Jesus and the local and global situation in which we live.

Priority 2: Healthy Homes Lead to Healthy Lives

Home is where the heart is, so the saying goes but the question is, ‘Is it a healthy heart?’

Health starts in our families, in our schools and workplaces, in our playgrounds and parks, and in the air we breathe and the water we drink. No wonder then that studying the relationship between housing and health is an ongoing activity worldwide. There are ‘confounding’ factors in conducting such research, though.

For instance, people in poor housing suffer so many deprivations that assessment of any one risk factor is almost impossible and the direction of cause and effect therefore often unclear. People who already suffer from ill health may tend to live in substandard housing by virtue of low income.

Additionally, indices for measuring health and quality of housing are often insensitive and (linked to all the above) result in methodological problems when designing and conducting appropriate research.

However, the Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) report on home heating and air quality does not appear to be at all confounded: The CDHB acknowledges that the direct effects of cold homes on health include excess mortality from cardiovascular and respiratory disease amongst the elderly, increased respiratory problems in children, increased illnesses such as colds, influenza and mental health problems, and the exacerbation of existing conditions such as arthritis. The CDHB recognises that home heating (temperature, humidity and ventilation), energy costs and fuel poverty are key housing issues with implications for health outcomes.

In my own experience of ministering in a low-socio-economic area, people living in ‘unhealthy’ housing do seem to suffer more aches and pains, nerves, diarrhoea and headaches than those who live in modern warm homes. Anyone who works with children living in homes with visible mould will confirm higher symptom rates, vomiting and sore throats afflicting children.

Whomever you decide to vote for in September, I invite you to canvas your prospective MPs opinions on the following:  

  • If health begins where we live, learn, work and play, why are some Kiwis' homes hazardous to their health?
  • Too many Kiwis don’t have the same opportunities to be as healthy as others, so how will your party’s policies address this?
  • All Kiwis should have the opportunity to make choices that allow them to live a long, healthy life, regardless of their income, education, or ethnic background. Does your party have a plan to address this issue?

Humankind is social by nature, and when the ties that bind begin to unravel, so does our health. Health begins at home in our families, with loving relationships, where kids can expect to be safe, nurtured and protected. Health begins with healthy communities, safe streets, freedom from violence, and parks where kids can play.

No one institution can restore a healthy Aotearoa New Zealand that nurtures families and communities. That will require leadership, and a partnership of business, government, and civic and religious institutions. We can’t eradicate illness, but we can foster good health. And health begins with healthy relationships in healthy communities that protect us from the stress of everyday life.

That’s one prescription I’d be prepared to pay for—gladly.

By The Rev. Sheena Dickson

The Rev. Sheena Dickson is the convenor of the Church and Society Group at the Christchurch Presbytery.