Objectives: To assess the effect of a publicly-funded domestic heating programme on self-reported health.
Design: Prospective controlled study.
Participants: Heads of household (or partners) from 1,281 households receiving new central heating systems under a publicly-funded initiative, and from 1,084 comparison households not receiving new heating (total 2,365).
Main outcome measures: Self-reported diagnosis of asthma, bronchitis, eczema, nasal allergy, heart disease, circulatory problems or high blood pressure during the two-year study period; number of primary care encounters and hospital contacts in past year; SF-36 health survey scores.
Results: Usable data were obtained from 61.4% of 3,849 respondents originally recruited into the study. Central heating programme recipients reported higher scores on the SF-36 Physical Functioning scale (difference 2.51 units; 95% CI: 0.67 units to 4.37 units) and General Health scale (difference 2.57 units; 95% CI: 0.90 units to 4.34 units). Heating recipients were less likely to report having received a first diagnosis of heart disease (OR 0.69; 95% CI 0.52 to 0.91) or high blood pressure (OR 0.77; 95% CI 0.61 to 0.97) during the study period, but the groups did not differ significantly in use of primary care or hospital services. Recipients were also more likely to report a first diagnosis of nasal allergy (OR 1.52; 95% CI 1.05 to 2.20).
Conclusions: Provision of central heating was associated with significant positive effects on general health and physical functioning; however, effect sizes were small. Evidence of a reduced risk of first diagnosis with heart disease or high blood pressure must be interpreted with caution, due to the self-reported nature of the outcomes, the limited time period covered by the study and the failure to detect any difference in health service use.