DNA Sampling Speaks To The Value Of Social Housing

Woman, bent over carries a house upon her back as she walks through the snow
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Science reveals that renting from a private landlord can twist up your life and even shorten it.

Scientific discoveries are flying thick and fast these days. News about AI and ChatGBT are getting a lot of media coverage, but we’d like to draw your attention to a study that uses DNA methylation to study how housing affects health and aging.

A key to understanding the study rests on the difference between chronological age and the age that is measured through DNA methylation. Chronological age is what we normally think of as our age: the number of days, months and years since we were born. Age measured by DNA methylation includes all the stresses and strains, and bumps and lumps that have occurred along the way.

DNA methylation has the potential to help us understand why some people age faster than others. Here’s an example: identical twins have the same chronological age. Their age measured by DNA methylation would be different if one has been in an car accident and the other has not.

Three researchers, Amy Clair, Emma Baker and Meena Kumari studied the relationship between DNA methylation and housing. They were curious about whether the health impacts associated with housing would show up in DNA methylation samples.

Clair, Baker and Kumari needed a database where information about housing was connected with DNA methylation records. They were able to access a data set in the United Kingdom, where the necessary combination of data was available.

There is a second reason that the UK is a great data source for this investigation. There is a relative balance between social rent tenants (20% of residents), private rent tenants (17% of residents) and homeowners (63% of residents). This reduces the risk of small sample sizes that could occur in Canada or Australia where less than 5% of residents live in social housing.

Clair, Baker and Kumari’s research has a number of significant findings that should influence public policy. For example, DNA methylation is more sensitive to housing tenure than it is to unemployment or smoking. The DNA methylation profiles of people who own their homes and people who rent social housing are quite similar. People living in private rental housing are aging faster than owners and social renters.

This is an astonishing conclusion, which suggests important psychological impacts to the detriment of human health can monitored by chemical changes within the body. Private renting can be bad for your health and perhaps even shorten your lifespan. Who knew?

Clair, Baker and Kumari are writing for an Australian audience in the article linked below. They argue that the UK evidence would apply in Australia. This is because the rules governing private renting in Australia are similar to the UK. The researchers also recommend changes to rental housing policy that are intended to improve housing stability for private renters, and by extension, their health.

Following this logic, readers in other jurisdictions should find Clair, Baker and Kumari’s research useful. Read more in The Conversation: Insecure renting ages you faster than owning a home, unemployment or obesity. Better housing policy can change this