Impact of Rental Assistance on Modifiable Health Risk Factors and Behaviors in Adults

Objectives: Housing may influence health through various mechanisms and is recognized as a social determinant of health. This study investigated the influence of rental assistance on modifiable health risk factors and behaviors using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. Participants receiving rental assistance were compared with participants not receiving rental assistance on body mass index (BMI), obesity, smoking, alcohol use, and physical activity. Methods: Participants (N = 1,374) were ages 18 to 62, heads of household, and had not received rental assistance for 4 years prior to baseline. Treatment group participants (n = 116) received rental assistance between baseline and the 2-year followup. Control group participants (n = 1,258) were eligible for rental assistance 2 years after baseline but did not receive assistance. Models estimated the average treatment effect on the treated for each health indicator in each followup year. Participants were matched on age, race and ethnicity, gender, education, disability status, employment, household income, and number of children in the family unit. Results: At the 2-year followup, smoking was significantly higher among treatmentgroup participants. A sensitivity analysis excluding permanently disabled participants showed significantly higher obesity in the treatment group 2 years after baseline. No significant differences were found 4 or 6 years after baseline on any outcome. Conclusions: Rental assistance was associated with increased smoking and obesity 2 years after baseline but did not influence BMI, alcohol consumption, or physical activity. Interventions to reduce smoking and obesity may improve the health of individuals who receive rental assistance.