Further analysis of the ‘Housing, Heating and Health’ study conducted by the University of Otago, Wellington, and led by Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman, shows that improved home heating reduces asthma symptoms in children in New Zealand.
The results of the latest study have been published in the prestigious British Medical Journal.
The study examined 409 children in five NZ communities between the ages of 6 and 12 with diagnosed asthma, both before and after more effective heating was installed in their homes. The better heating included heat pumps, flued gas heaters or pellet burners.
The results showed a positive improvement in the children’s health following the installation of better heating. Specifically the children had improved health, less sleep disturbance and wheezing, less coughing at night and improved respiratory symptoms. They also had fewer sick days off school and fewer visits to the doctor and chemist.
Although there was no significant difference in lung function, asthma symptoms such as coughing and wheezing were significantly reduced.
"This study shows that sustainable heaters are good for children’s health. It’s possible for families to be warm inside, without polluting the air outside. The recent Emissions Trading package builds on this work and allocates a billion dollars to insulate houses and install healthy heating. We expect to see improvements in respiratory health as a result," says Professor Howden-Chapman.
The houses in the study had a mean temperature rise of 1.1oC in the living room and 0.57oC in the child’s bedroom. They also had significantly less polluting nitrogen dioxide (NO2) from unflued gas heaters in both the living and bedrooms.
Further analysis of the health records of family members will determine other results from the heating intervention, along with a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis comparing the cost of healthy heating with the public good of ongoing savings in positive health impacts, energy use and climate change mitigation.
Asthma is one of the most prevalent chronic diseases in childhood and 25 per cent of NZ children report asthma symptoms. It is the second most common reason for hospital admissions for children. Asthmatic children also have more days off school and caregivers have to take more time off work. It also results in higher health and pharmaceutical costs.
There is growing evidence that indoor pollutants such at NO2, cold house temperatures, damp and mould and second-hand smoke all aggravate asthma, although the exact causal relationships are unclear. However children, because of their lack of physical development inhale more air, and therefore more pollutants, than adults in the same environment.
Indoor pollutants also have a thousand-fold greater chance of being inhaled than outdoors. One third of NZ homes use unflued gas heaters which emit significant concentrations of NO2 compared to heat pumps or other flued gas appliances. Unflued gas heaters also release large amounts of water vapour which exacerbates mould and dampness.
(Source: British Medical Journal: University of Otago: September 2008)