While elderly people living in cold homes are more prone to heart and lung disease, the editorial by Dr. Keith Dear and Professor Anthony McMichael from the Australian National University in Canberra also notes that cold homes can affect health at any age. Children are more likely to suffer from breathing problems and adolescents living in a cold house have an increased risk of mental health problems.
The report highlights that every year in the UK there are around 5,500 more deaths than would occur if those houses were warm. By having warmer houses, lives could be saved, the environment wins in the long run and health inequalities are reduced.
So why are there more deaths from cold in milder climates? In severely cold climates homes have always had better insulation - obviously poor people who can't afford heat can't afford new insulation either. But warmer homes would also mean governments would also be tackling climate change.
The authors conclude that Britain "is saddled with obsolete housing stock many decades, if not centuries, old …these inadequate homes are a waste of energy, a health hazard, and (given today's levels of national wealth) a shameful relic for their part in fostering persistent, avoidable, social inequity."
While it is unfortunate that researchers should once again call for higher taxes, forcing even fewer people to be able to heat their homes in the interests of impossible-to-achieve equality, the idea that less warmth in the winter is a long-term environmental negative is a welcome realization.
Marmot M, Geddes I, Bloomer E, Allen J, Goldblatt P. The health impacts of cold homes and fuel poverty. Friends of the Earth/Marmot Review Team, 2011.
Keith B G Dear, Anthony J McMichael, 'The health impacts of cold homes and fuel poverty', BMJ 2011;342:doi:10.1136/bmj.d2807 (Published 11 May 2011)
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