Living in cold homes can have a big impact on the health of young children, a new study from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has found.
Energy poverty refers to an inability to maintain a warm, thermally comfortable home. It is sometimes referred to as fuel poverty or energy insecurity. The main causes of this type of poverty are low incomes, high energy costs and dwellings that are not energy efficient.
According to the ESRI, children who grow up in such dwellings may be particularly vulnerable to the negative health effects associated with living in cold environments. This is especially true for pre-school children who spend most of their time indoors.
This latest study set out to investigate the link between energy poverty and children's health in Ireland. The ESRI noted that this is timely because people are now spending even more time at home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
ESRI researcher, Gretta Mohan, used data from the ongoing Growing Up in Ireland study. She looked at two different groups. The first was children who were nine years old in 2007/8. These were followed up when they were 13 years of age, and then again when they were 17/18.
The second group included younger children. They were nine months old in 2008/9 and they were followed up when they were three years of age and five years of age.
The research found that there was an increase in energy poverty over time for the two groups. Among the older group, 5% of households were found to be affected in 2007/8 and this rose to 6.4% in 2016.
Among the younger group, this was an even bigger problem, with 8.3% affected in 2008/9, rising to 12.7% in 2013.
Furthermore, younger children living in homes affected by energy poverty had a higher likelihood of suffering from respiratory illness and wheezing. They also had a lower likelihood of being rated as "very healthy".
The study noted that while there was a link between poorer respiratory health and older children, it was not as strong as that found in younger children.
"The harmful effect on the respiratory and overall health of children residing in energy-poor homes highlights the need for greater policy attention, particularly for younger children," Ms Mohan said.
She noted that there are a number of causes of energy poverty, "necessitating a blend of policy responses". These could include retrofitting homes and replacing inefficient heaters, and providing income support to allow for this.
"A reduction in household energy poverty through state intervention may reduce its impact on those who may suffer from respiratory ailments," she said.
Details of these findings are published in the journal, Energy Research & Social Science.
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