Recent research suggests that private renting is linked to swifter biological aging – referring to cellular age independent of actual age – compared to being unemployed or a past smoker.
This underlines the pivotal relationship between living conditions and health, pointing towards housing improvements as a critical health initiative.
Housing’s significance as a major social health determinant is well-acknowledged, with inadequate or unaffordable housing often correlating with adverse mental and physical health results.
However, the intricate ways through which housing’s tangible and psychological facets influence health remain largely unexplored.
A team from the University of Adelaide in South Australia delved into how various housing aspects influence biological aging, which signifies cellular wear and tear and is distinct from actual age. Increased cellular age is often a precursor to numerous diseases.
The scientists integrated social survey information with epigenetic data, specifically DNA methylation, to discern potential pathways linking housing and health. Epigenetics delves into how the environment and behaviors induce gene function changes without altering the genetic code.
Data was collated from 1,420 participants of the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS) and the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) who had furnished blood samples for methylation analysis.
Various housing attributes, both tangible (like property type, urban or rural setting) and psychological (such as housing expenses, and overcrowding), were scrutinized. While interpreting the results, influential variables like gender, ethnicity, educational background, diet, stress, financial strain, and smoking were considered.
Both biological and chronological aging were also taken into account. The findings revealed that individuals renting privately exhibited swifter biological aging compared to outright homeowners.
Astonishingly, the aging impact of private renting surpassed that of unemployment or past smoking. Conversely, residing in public housing, often viewed negatively, showed biological aging rates similar to those owning homes.
Furthermore, past experiences like struggling with housing payments or residing in polluted environments were connected to hastened biological aging. The team theorizes that recurrent episodes of payment issues could be the underlying cause.
Crucially, the team emphasizes that with policy changes, the health consequences of these epigenetic shifts could be averted. While this study is observational and can’t pinpoint direct causes, its limitations are acknowledged by the researchers.
They lacked contemporary housing data, and the epigenetic data only represented white, European participants. Nonetheless, they believe their insights hold significance beyond the UK, especially in nations with analogous housing frameworks.