New study links housing tenure to levels of stress using biomarker data

Stress and inflammation levels can be directly linked to housing type and tenure, according to a new UK study.

To test the possible health effects of insecure or low quality housing, researchers from Essex University looked at a biological marker known as C-reactive protein (CRP) which is found at elevated levels in the blood in response to stress, injury and infection.

Tests for elevated CRP levels are used to diagnose those at risk of heart disease, or chronic inflammatory conditions such as IBS or arthritis.

The study suggests that people living in rented flats have measurably higher levels of stress chemicals in their blood than homeowners or those living in a detached property.

The researchers used blood samples and housing interviews with 9,593 adults aged over 21 (with over 800 from Scotland) and found one in five (22%) had elevated levels of CRP – above the threshold of three milligrams per litre associated with heart disease.

However, levels were higher in people living in affordable housing (1.1mg/l), followed by private renters (0.8mg/l). Those who owned their home or had a mortgage had CRP levels below 0.6mg/l.

Similar patterns were found in those receiving housing benefit, having nearly twice the level of CRP as those not receiving benefits.

These differences were evident even after the authors controlled for respondents’ obesity levels and smoking status, factors closely associated with socioeconomic deprivation which might also increase CRP. 

While the results cannot prove that housing caused the rise directly, and it is likely that a variety of linked factors contribute to it, researchers argue this should be considered when developing housing policies.

Dr Amy Clair, of the Institute for Social and Economic Research, author of the study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, said: “Higher CRP, indicating worse health, is found among those living in the private rented sector.

“This finding supports arguments for greater consideration of the negative effects of the current private rented market in the UK, characterised by greater insecurity, higher cost and lower quality than is typically found in other tenures.”

She added: “The significant findings for housing type and tenure point to an influence of autonomy and control. Where control is low, the sense of security is reduced, which may affect health through chronic stress responses.”