MONDAY, Sept. 3, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- Homelessness threatens young children's health, even if it occurs while they're still in the womb, a new study shows.
"These findings back up what we already knew about how the stress of homelessness affects children's heath, but this helps us determine which children are at greatest risk, and makes the argument that policymakers and providers need to intervene to change the trajectory of a child's development," said study author Dr. Megan Sandel. She's from Children's HealthWatch, based out of Boston Medical Center.
The study included 20,000 low-income caregivers of children under the age of 4 at outpatient pediatric clinics in five U.S. cities between 2009 and 2015. The caregivers were asked about the children's exposure to homelessness.
The children were assessed to determine their overall health, if/how often they'd been in hospital, and if they had any developmental delays.
More than 3 percent of caregivers said children experienced homelessness while still in the womb (prenatal), 3.7 percent said children experienced homelessness after birth (postnatal), and 3.5 percent said children experienced both prenatal and postnatal homelessness.
Children who experienced homelessness for more than six months were at high risk of poor health, as were those who had both prenatal and postnatal exposure to homelessness, according to the study.
The results show that the earlier and longer children experience homelessness, the greater the risk to their health and development, according to the researchers.
"As pediatricians, we should be regularly screening families for housing insecurity, including past history and future risk of homelessness," senior study author Dr. Deborah Frank said in a medical center news release.
"Interventions that prevent homelessness for families and pregnant women can be extremely effective, and with data on the housing status of our patients, we can better advocate for more resources to drive innovations in addressing housing instability," Frank said.
The study was published online Sept. 3 in the journal Pediatrics.
The American Psychological Association has more on how poverty, hunger and homelessness affect children.