Why it matters to keep warm at home

In Britain, 40,000 more people die in winter than in summer - such an increase in the death rate does not happen in other European countries where the winters are much colder. For example, UK rates are nearly twice those of the Netherlands where building standards and benefits levels are higher. This suggests that indoor temperatures play a significant part in these extra winter deaths.

Illnesses linked to cold and damp housing

Circulatory diseases. About half of all extra deaths in winter are due to coronary heart disease or stroke. Blood thickens when it is cold, which makes circulation more difficult. Emerging from a cold dwelling into the cold outdoors produces greater cardiovascular strain than from a warm dwelling. It is therefore important to wrap up warm and be physically active when leaving the home.

Moving from a very warm room to a cold room within the house also increases cold stress. Central heating, for the whole house, is the best way of combating this problem.

Respiratory illnesses. About a third of all extra winter deaths are due to respiratory illnesses such as influenza, pneumonia and bronchitis. Persistent exposure to the cold reduces resistance to chest infections. Poor home insulation, heating and ventilation can lead to condensation which in turn promotes the growth of fungi, the spores of which are known to exacerbate respiratory conditions. A humid environment, where there is damp and warmth, provide the ideal conditions for dust mites to breed. Dust mite droppings are known to trigger asthma. Tackling housing-related respiratory illnesses therefore requires a combination of heating, insulation and ventilation improvements.

Falls. There is an increased risk of injury from falls in winter. Muscles react more slowly when it is cold, making falls more likely. With older people, complications of a limb fracture, and the effects of prolonged immobility during recovery, are particularly marked. Every day eight people over the age of 65 die from a fall.

Arthritis. Arthritis symptoms, particularly pain, are worse for sufferers who live in cold, damp homes.

Depression. Living in poor quality housing can cause emotional distress. A London-based study showed that people living in cold housing had more than four times as many stress and depression episodes as those who were well housed (Ambrose P., I mustn't laugh too much, 1999).

Educational achievement. Cold housing has also been linked to poor educational achievement. Finding a quiet place to do homework is difficult in a home with limited heating. A child who is frequently ill because of cold and damp housing is also likely to miss days at school.

"Multiple housing deprivation appears to pose a health risk that is of the same magnitude as smoking and, on average, greater than that posed by excessive alcohol consumption." BMA, Housing & Health, 2003.

Picture: Norman and HEET van

Web Design :: Tim Peat