Friday, October 21, 2011

Warning: This ZIP Code May Be Hazardous to Your Health

by Rebecca Cohen, Center for Housing Policy

Newly-released findings from the Moving to Opportunity demonstration program (MTO) continue to demonstrate the health benefits of enabling families to move from high-poverty neighborhoods to lower poverty areas. Reporting on outcomes for very-low-income women who received housing vouchers to move to low-poverty neighborhoods, researchers from the National Bureau of Economic Research found significant reductions in the prevalence of extreme obesity and diabetes compared with women who did not receive vouchers.

Specifically, women who received a voucher to move to a low-poverty neighborhood had extreme obesity rates that were a statistically significant 3.4 percentage points lower than women who did not receive a voucher. Similarly, women given the opportunity to move to a low-poverty neighborhood with a voucher had a diabetes prevalence rate that was 5.2 percentage points lower than women who did not receive a voucher. The research and results are described in detail in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, and echo findings from a 2006 evaluation of the program that also found a statistically significant reduction in obesity among movers.

Started in 1994 with data collection through 2010, the voluntary Moving to Opportunity demonstration program was intended to examine the impacts of neighborhood conditions on families with children. Roughly 4,500 families living in public housing in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York were chosen to participate. Randomly-assigned members of the experimental group received a voucher that could be used only in a low-poverty neighborhood; the Section 8 group received a voucher that could be used in any neighborhood, and the control group did not receive vouchers. A final report on the program is expected next month.

For more on the impacts of housing and neighborhood conditions on health, visit http://www.nhc.org/vital_links.html.

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