Emerging Public Health Crisis Tied To Mortgage Woes, Study Says

Emerging Public Health Crisis Tied To Mortgage Woes, Study Says Newly published research finds that Americans who are behind on their mortgage are more likely to experience depression and have a higher likelihood of making unhealthy finance trade-offs regarding food and medical prescriptions.Â

The study, conducted by the University of Maryland School of Medicine and released in the American Journal of Public Health, used data from a panel study of adults over the age of 50. In 2008, 2,474 participants were asked if they had fallen more than two months behind on mortgage payments since 2006. Among participants who were delinquent on their mortgage, 22% developed elevated depressive symptoms over the two-year period compared to only 3% of non-delinquent respondents, the study shows.

Twenty-eight percent of respondents who were behind on their mortgage reported food insecurity compared to 4% in the non-delinquent group. In addition, the delinquent group reported much higher levels of cost-related medication non-adherence (32% versus 5%).

Adults over the age of 50 account for more than a quarter of all distressed borrowers, according to the study's lead, Dr. Dawn E. Alley, assistant professor of epidemiology and public health at the university.

‘For an older person with chronic conditions like diabetes or hypertension, the types of health problems we saw are short term consequences of falling behind on a mortgage that could have long-run implications for that person's health.’

Recent research from economists Janet Currie of Princeton University and Erdal Tekin of Georgia State University similarly found a correlation between foreclosure and health issues. That study – which focused on four hard-hit states – Arizona, California, Florida and New Jersey – determined that an increase of 100 foreclosures corresponded with an 8.1% increase for diabetes and a 7.2% rise in emergency room visits and hospitalizations for hypertension among people between the ages of 20 and 49.

The University of Maryland study also found that lower-income and minority homeowners were at higher risk for mortgage default.

‘Our results suggest that the housing crisis may be making health disparities worse because these groups had poorer health, lower incomes and higher levels of debt even before the current mortgage crisis," says Alley.

The researchers say it will likely take decades for African American and Hispanic communities to recover the wealth lost during the housing crisis and that minority communities are disproportionately affected by declining home values and lost tax revenue.

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