Public health professionals worldwide encounter many issues that can threaten a person’s well-being, but perhaps one of the most frustrating is how a home can make someone unhealthy. Homes are thought of as a place of refuge, but that’s unfortunately not the case for many. From chemicals found within a home to environmental factors in the community, what makes a home unhealthy is a growing question that Master of Public Health graduates are working hard to answer.
Radon is the second most prevalent and deadly home health issue for children, falling only behind secondhand smoke. Radon seeps from certain soils and can get trapped inside a house, leading to lung cancer and other health issues.1
Well-intentioned household tasks like cleaning can also cause negative health effects. According to a recent academic study, cleaning agents can cause potential harmful effects to the respiratory system and increase the risk of asthma and respiratory symptoms.2 On the other hand, it is well known that a home that is never cleaned can pose health risks as well.
These are the types of issues that professionals with jobs in public health are dealing with frequently.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 80% of the world’s population is at risk from at least one vector-borne disease, and more than half are at risk for two or more.3 A vector is an organism that transmits disease or a parasite from one animal or plant to another. WHO’s research shows that poor housing quality is a significant risk factor for the transmission of malaria, yellow fever, Zika virus, and other diseases by these types of organisms. However, housing interventions like screening windows, doors, and eaves of houses; fitting ceilings; and limiting the disease-causing organisms’ hiding and breeding places can have a significant positive health impact on those within the home. Local and regional public health programs are working tirelessly to help improve home structures and limit the health effects of vectors, but there is still much work to do.
Environmental factors can also have a negative impact on the health of those living within a home. According to a WHO report, air pollution is responsible for as many as 8.2 million deaths in the past 10 years. Environmental risks take their greatest toll on young children and older adults. The report indicates deaths in these two groups would be prevented through better environmental management.4 While we do not often think of those with public health careers focusing on environmental issues, these are contributing factors to the health of large populations and something that public health professionals are focused on.
The notion of social determinants of health is a relatively new concept for public health professionals, but it is one that plays a key role in identifying what makes a home healthy or unhealthy. Social determinants of health are essentially the health behaviors and other factors that play a significant role in determining how healthy someone actually is. These can be behaviors like smoking, diet, or exercise, or could be other social or economic factors. One example is that children born to parents who have not completed high school are more likely to live in an environment that poses barriers to health, encountering issues such as lack of safety, exposed garbage, or substandard housing. These children are also less likely to have sidewalks, parks, playgrounds, or libraries in their neighborhood.5
For those earning a public health degree, social determinants of health are an important component of understanding what contributes to making a home unhealthy. It goes beyond just the fact that residents live in inadequate housing or in a part of the world where air pollution is creating health issues. With social determinants of health, public health professionals are able to identify the core issue that is causing the home to be unhealthy, which can lead to more lasting and impactful solutions.
The answer to what makes a home unhealthy is a complex one that varies widely based on geography, culture, and socioeconomic status. If working on these challenging issues interests you, a Master of Public Health might be the right path. Earning your MPH degree from an accredited university can be an excellent way to capitalize on your existing skills and make a difference. Maybe you have a degree in engineering, healthcare, environmental science, or another field—by combining these skills and experiences with an MS in Public Health, you could make a significant difference in keeping people healthy in their own homes.
There is not one single factor that makes a home healthy or unhealthy. Instead, there are a number of factors at play—from chemicals and pests found within the home to the environmental and socio-economic dangers outside. If finding solutions is a challenge that excites you, a Master of Public Health may the perfect degree to make a positive difference.
Walden University is an accredited institution offering a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.
4Source: http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/204585/9789241565196_eng.pdf?sequence=1 5Source: https://www.kff.org/report-section/beyond-health-care-the-role-of-social-determinants-in-promoting-he
Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.