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The Watcombe Housing Study: the short term effect of improving housing conditions on the health of residents
  1. Andy Barton1,
  2. Meryl Basham1,
  3. Chris Foy2,
  4. Ken Buckingham3,
  5. Margaret Somerville1,
  6. on behalf of the Torbay Healthy Housing Group
  1. 1Peninsula Research and Development Support Unit, Plymouth
  2. 2Gloucestershire Research and Development Support Unit
  3. 3University of Otago, New Zealand
  1. Correspondence to:
 Andy Barton
 Co-ordinator, Peninsula Research & Development Support Unit, Room N17 ITTC Building, Tamar Science Park, Plymouth, PL6 8BX, UK; andy.barton{at}


Objective: To assess the short term health effects of improving housing.

Design: Randomised to waiting list.

Setting: 119 council owned houses in south Devon, UK.

Participants: About 480 residents of these houses.

Intervention: Upgrading houses (including central heating, ventilation, rewiring, insulation, and re-roofing) in two phases a year apart.

Main outcome measures: All residents completed an annual health questionnaire: SF36 and GHQ12 (adults). Residents reporting respiratory illness or arthritis were interviewed using condition-specific questionnaires, the former also completing peak flow and symptom diaries (children) or spirometry (adults). Data on health service use and time lost from school were collected.

Results: Interventions improved energy efficiency. For those living in intervention houses, non-asthma-related chest problems (Mann–Whitney test, p = 0.005) and the combined asthma symptom score for adults (Mann–Whitney test, z = 2.7, p = 0.007) diminished significantly compared with control houses. No difference between intervention and control houses was seen for SF36 or GHQ12.

Conclusions: Rigorous study designs for the evaluation of complex public health and community based interventions are possible. Quantitatively measured health benefits are small, but as health benefits were measured over a short time scale, there may have been insufficient time for measurable improvements in general and disease-specific health to become apparent.

  • BTS, British Thoracic Society
  • GHQ, general health questionnaire
  • SAP, standard assessment procedure
  • SF36, 36 item short form health survey
  • housing
  • health service utilisation
  • quality of life
  • respiratory illness
  • community participation

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  • Funding: The study was funded by the NHS Executive Research & Development Directorate, South West.

  • Competing interests: None.

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