Major weather events like last month’s 6.4-magnitude California earthquake, tornadoes in Louisiana, and a “once-in-a-generation” multi-state winter storm have wreaked havoc on homes across the United States and disrupted daily life. As climate experts predict these natural disasters will continue to increase in severity and frequency, a new study by a School of Public Health researcher is shedding new insight into the negative health impacts some vulnerable populations experience following the loss of a home due to severe weather damage.
Published in the American Journal of Epidemiologythe study found that people from disadvantaged backgrounds disproportionately experience disaster-related home loss and are more likely to be severely affected by home loss, particularly by developing physical and mental functional limitations in the years following the loss of the House.
The first-of-its-kind study builds on previous research that focused only on population-average data on homelessness and adverse health effects; the new study identifies subgroups of vulnerable populations who are most likely to be severely affected by this traumatic experience. These include older, unmarried, single, less educated and unemployed people, as well as those who had health problems before losing their homes.
The researchers say identifying populations at exceptionally high risk of post-disaster functional impairment can better inform resource allocation during disaster mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery efforts at the local and federal levels.
“Our study went beyond the traditional discovery of population mean effects and identified the heterogeneity of complex effects,” says Dr. “These findings help policymakers by providing insights into the impacts disaster damage can have on health inequalities, which population-average effect analysis ignores. The findings can also be used to identify which subpopulations should be prioritized in supports post-disaster public health.”
For the study, Dr. Shiba and colleagues used machine learning methods to identify variations in the association between disaster-related trauma and functional limitations in a group of older survivors of the 2011 Greater Eastern Japan earthquake and tsunami. 9.1 magnitude earthquake and 40-meter tsunami killed nearly 16,000 people and made more than 450,000 homeless. The team used pre- and post-disaster survey data from the Iwanuma Study, part of a larger nationwide study of the living conditions of Japanese seniors, to measure individuals’ functional limitations in 2013 and 2016 based on three indicators: standardized assessments of disability (such as whether someone can turn over independently); the ability to independently carry out daily activities (such as walking, bathing, going to the toilet); and higher-level functional capabilities (such as the use of public transport).
The researchers found that people with more severe functional limitations after the loss of their homes tended to have less education and more pre-disaster health problems, such as depression. But notably, they also found that these people had higher incomes before losing their homes.
One speculation for this finding could be explained by state inconsistency — “where different aspects of welfare state contradict each other and potentially amplify the negative impacts of disaster-related home loss,” Shiba explains. Previous studies have shown that people with higher incomes are also more likely to engage in heavy drinking, which could lead to limited functioning. Another explanation, he says, is that “instead of moving into a temporary housing village with other survivors, wealthier people could have afforded and moved into private housing after the loss of their home, which could result in the loss of capital.” pre-existing social and support.”
Understanding these underlying mechanisms resulting from home loss and other traumatic experiences will help inform more targeted public health interventions in the wake of the inevitable occurrence of future severe weather events, he says.
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Materials provided by Boston University School of Public Health. Original written by Jillian McKoy. Note: Content can be edited for style and length.