The findings appear in the Vol. 122, No. 4, October 2008, issue of the journal
Rising energy prices are forcing many low-income families to choose between paying utility bills and other necessities, such as food and rent. Health effects of inadequate home heating and cooling on the elderly have been described in some detail, but research has not addressed the effects of home energy insecurity on infants' and toddlers' health and development.
BMC researchers conducted a cross-sectional study of caregivers using the emergency departments and primary care clinics in five large urban hospitals. Of the 9,721 children who were studied, the researchers found 11 percent (1,043 children) experienced moderate energy insecurity, while 23 percent (2,293 children) experienced severe energy insecurity.
Children in households with moderate or severe energy insecurity had odds of being reported in fair or poor health (by their caretakers) more than one-third greater than those in energy-secure households. The odds of a child from a moderately-insecure household being hospitalized since birth were 22 percent greater than a child from an energy-secure home.
According to the researchers, many poor families have to make difficult choices between paying for energy to heat (or cool) their homes and paying for enough food because household expenses do not allow both. "In addition to direct effects of unregulated environmental temperatures on infant and child health, our data suggests that household food insecurity associated with energy insecurity can also adversely affect children's nutritional status and health," said lead author John Cook, PhD, co-principal investigator of the Children's Sentinel Nutrition Assessment Program (C-SNAP) at BMC.
"Pediatric health care providers need to be aware of the energy security status of their patients' households and use this information to inform decisions regarding both treatment and referrals for other services," he added.
Already UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed deep concern that the U.S. financial crisis will have a serious global impact, especially on rich donor nations that play key roles in fighting poverty.
The secretary-general pointed to a recent U.N. report which said rich donor nations have failed to deliver on promises to help the world's poorest countries, saying they must increase aid by $18 billion a year to keep their pledge to provide $50 billion by 2010.
He was asked if the financial crisis would affect global efforts to meet the U.N. goals, which include cutting poverty, ensuring primary school education for all children, and halting the HIV/AIDS pandemic, all by 2015.
"This will give negative impact — very serious negative impact to overall capacity of international community, national governments, particularly developed countries," he said. "I'm afraid that this may affect ... the capacity in realizing the Millennium Development Goals."