Online Program

Power for the people: Examining energy insecurity as a hidden dimension of risk among vulnerable populations

Monday, November 4, 2013 : 3:05 p.m. - 3:20 p.m.

Diana Hernandez, PhD, Dept of Sociomedical Sciences, Mailman School of Public Health, Collumbia University, New York City, NY
The World Health Organization recognizes household energy as a “prerequisite for good health” and admonishes the very inadequate attention this issue has received to date. The emerging concept of energy insecurity (EI) is a multi-dimensional construct that describes the interplay between structural conditions of housing and the costs of household energy. The relevance of EI is demonstrated in the fact that lower-income householders are more likely than their more privileged counterparts to: a) live in housing with heating and electrical problems, (b) experience multiple heating equipment breakdowns, (c) endure utility service interruptions, (d) sustain inadequate insulation and insufficient heating capacity, and (d) report being uncomfortably cold for more than 24 hours in winter. Furthermore, energy costs are comparatively higher for lower income groups thus reducing their ability to purchase other basic necessities such as food while facing the “heat or eat” dilemma. EI is characterized by downward cycles in which householders experience substandard home temperatures despite spending scarce resources and perpetuating risk by using hazardous and inefficient space heaters and ovens to warm a cold home. As a producer of cycles of structural poverty, EI also contributes to health disparities such as asthma. These problems are emblematic of a neglected phenomenon that burdens an estimated 16 million households in the US, a disproportionate share of which are Black and Latino and low-income. Notwithstanding their significance to public health, circumstances related to EI are largely outside of the public's consciousness, ignored in the scientific literature and overlooked in public policy.

Learning Areas:

Advocacy for health and health education
Public health or related public policy

Learning Objectives:
Describe how energy insecurity is a risk for poor health outcomes.

Keyword(s): Health Disparities, Housing

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: my work focuses on public health in relation to poverty and social inequality and my dissertation, entitled "Litigating Health Risks," examined the effectiveness of legal services as a resource tool for low-income families in the prevention and intervention of child and family health risks precipitated by problematic housing and neighborhood conditions -- and has prompted the additional work I report in this presentation.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.