Determinants of health and service use patterns in homeless and low-income housed children

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Department of Medicine, Division of Cardiovascular Medicine

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Adolescent; Ambulatory Care; Case-Control Studies; Child; Child Abuse; Child, Preschool; Emergency Medical Services; Female; Health Services; *Health Status; Homeless Youth; Humans; Infant; Male; Poverty


Bioinformatics | Biostatistics | Epidemiology | Health Services Research


OBJECTIVE: Previous studies of homeless children have described more health problems and service use than in housed children, but failed to control for potential confounding factors that may differ between these children. This observational study examines the relationship of homelessness and other determinants to health status and service use patterns in 627 homeless and low-income housed children.

METHODS: Case-control study of 293 homeless and 334 low-income housed children aged 3 months to 17 years and their mothers conducted in Worcester, Massachusetts. Information was collected about mothers' housing history, income, education, emotional distress, and victimization history. Standardized instruments were administered to assess children's health. Health service use questions were adapted from national surveys. Main outcome measures included health status, acute illness morbidity, emergency department and outpatient medical visits. Multivariable regression analyses were used to examine the association of family and environmental determinants, including homelessness, with health status and service use outcomes.

RESULTS: Mothers of homeless children were more likely to report their children as being in fair or poor health compared with their housed counterparts. Homeless children were reported to experience a higher number of acute illness symptoms, including fever, ear infection, diarrhea, and asthma. Emergency department and outpatient medical visits were higher among the homeless group. After controlling for potential explanatory factors, homeless children remained more likely to experience fair or poor health status (adjusted odds ratio [OR] = 2.83; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.16, 4.87), and a higher frequency of outpatient (OR = 1.71; 95% CI, 1.18, 2.48) and emergency department visits (OR = 1.21; 95% CI, 0.83, 1.74). Mothers' emotional distress was independently associated with acute illness symptoms and frequent use of outpatient and emergency department settings.

CONCLUSIONS: Homelessness is an independent predictor of poor health status and high service use among children. The present findings highlight the importance of preventive interventions and efforts to increase access to primary care among homeless children.


Pediatrics. 1998 Sep;102(3 Pt 1):554-62.

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