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Unraveling the Health Impacts of Energy Poverty: Understanding the Consequences of Inadequate Energy Access on Well-being

Energy and health are deeply interconnected. A stable access to energy in households plays a vital role in safeguarding the physical and mental well-being of individuals. In the last years, the detrimental effects of energy poverty on health have become increasingly pronounced due to the compounding challenges of climate change, the EU energy crisis, and rising inflation. Amidst these circumstances, it is crucial to shed light on the often neglected consequences of winter and summer energy poverty on health.

Energy poverty has an important effect on mental and physical health as well as personal wellbeing. As reported by a recent study (Jessel, Sonal, et al., 2019), residing in cold or overly hot homes is associated with poorer mental health, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and minor illnesses such as cold and flu. Individuals with chronic and severe illnesses, including disabilities, older people, and children, seem to be worst affected. This is explained by the fact that these people tend to spend more time at home and are also more vulnerable to diseases. The elderly, for instance, are at higher risk of going through medical events during heatwaves in comparison to other categories of individuals due to a combination of social isolation, physiological vulnerability, and the likelihood of not having air conditioning. Individuals with pre-existing health conditions, including cardiovascular, pulmonary, respiratory diseases, and arthritis, are particularly vulnerable to the effects of temperature extremes. As a result, living in a home that is excessively cold or hot can further aggravate and intensify their symptoms. Energy poverty has also an effect on mental health, having a negative impact on the person wellbeing.

WELLBASED, which is a European project funded under the HORIZON 2020 that aims to implement a programme to reduce energy poverty and its effects on the citizens health and wellbeing, has carried out a study involving 356 participants that shows that the conditions of energy poverty and poor mental well-being often co-exist. 71% of the participant declared that their homes were not comfortably warm during winter, with 65% of the entire sample feeling anxious or depressed, and 61% fiding it difficult to work up the initiative to do things.

To date, the connections between energy, socioeconomic disadvantage, and physical and mental well-being are generally under-researched, but it is time to raise awareness on this issue, so that research and policy in the field of energy poverty do not focus solely on the investigation of economic factors causing fuel poverty.

 Reference:

Jessel, Sonal, et al. “Energy, Poverty, and Health in Climate Change: A Comprehensive Review of an Emerging Literature.” Frontiers in Public Health, vol. 7, 2019, https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2019.00357. Accessed 11 May 2023.

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