According to new research, living near foreclosed property is linked to an increased risk of higher blood pressure.
A major contributor to heart disease and stroke, nearly 76 million people in the US are affected by high blood pressure. Genetics, advanced age, poor diet, alcohol consumption and obesity are all risk factors for high blood pressure.
The number of foreclosures in the US spiked during 2007-10, when banks took ownership of more than 6 million homes after homeowners fell behind on their mortgages.
Previous research has suggested there may be a link between neighborhood environment and cardiovascular health, but this is the first study to provide evidence that foreclosed property may affect the systolic blood pressure of people living in that vicinity.
American Heart Association researchers reviewed data from the Framingham, MA, Offspring Cohort, looking at 1,740 mostly white participants during the period 1987-2008.
The team found that each additional foreclosed property within 100 meters (328 feet) of participants' homes was linked with an average increase in systolic blood pressure of 1.71 mm Hg.
However, the researchers found that this link only applied to real estate-owned property. There also did not seem to be a link between property more than 100 meters from participants' homes and elevated blood pressure.
Blood pressure may be increased by stress over neighborhood safety or stability
"The increases in blood pressure observed could be due in part to unhealthy stress from residents' perception that their own properties are less valuable, their streets less attractive or safe and their neighborhoods less stable," says lead study author Mariana Arcaya, Yerby Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies in Cambridge, MA.
The researchers say that health care providers should be aware of foreclosure activity as a possible source of unhealthy stress for residents.
"Safety could also be a concern that affects their ability to exercise in these neighborhoods," she adds. "Health care providers, particularly those serving neighborhoods still recovering from the recent housing crisis, should be aware of foreclosure activity as a possible source of unhealthy stress for residents."
The research looked at predominantly white, middle class and suburban neighborhoods. Therefore, the researchers warn that it may not be possible to generalize these findings to other neighborhoods.
They suggest that more studies are needed on different populations in urban and rural settings.
The lead author behind that 2009 study, Dr. Craig E. Pollack, wrote:
"The foreclosure crisis is also a health crisis. We need to do more to ensure that if people lose their homes, they don't also lose their health.
This study raises the stakes of the housing crisis. The policy push to get people into mortgage counseling should be combined with health outreach in order to fully help people during this tremendously difficult period in their lives."