THE BLOG
08/27/2015 02:52 pm ET Updated Aug 27, 2016

Florence Nightingale Still Gets It Right: A Healthy Home Equals Healthy Kids

Florence Nightingale once wrote: "The connection between health and the dwelling of the population is one of the most important that exists." In other words, where we live affects our health. That was well over 100 years ago. Still, the problem of unhealthy homes persists and disproportionately affects low-income kids and their futures.

The Green and Healthy Homes Initiative (GHHI) will soon launch a new app that will allow families to conduct healthy home audits. Why? Because right now there are roughly 6 million substandard housing units nationwide, and low income persons are much more likely to live in them than their middle income peers. In fact, for low-income kids, lead poisoning is the leading cause of developmental delays, and asthma from mold and other pollutants accounts for 14 million missed school days and is the leading cause of absences for children ages five through seven -- kindergarten to second grade. We know that kids who miss three or more days a month -- that's at least 18 days a year -- score lower on standardized tests than their peers. In particular, absentee students scored 12 points lower on reading assessments, thus ensuring that they are no longer on the path to reading by third grade -- one of the best determinants of high school graduation. Just like anyone else, low-income parents want to take their kids to school, but when a child is chronically sick and suffering from asthma attacks, the ER, not school, becomes the priority. If my 6-year-old was having an asthma attack, I'd make the same choice and I'm certain most of us would.

Lead is just as bad. Lead poisoning affects roughly 535,000 kids under the age of 6 every year in the U.S. It causes lifelong developmental delays and as a result throws kids well off track to reading by the third grade. More than that, kids who are lead poisoned are seven times more likely to drop out of school and six times more likely to become involved in the Juvenile Justice system. Think about that for a moment. We know that kids who don't graduate from high school are much more likely to become to be incarcerated, we also know that kids not reading by third grade are 13 times more likely to drop out of high school, and we know that well over half a million kids who are lead poisoned are much more likely to be involved in the Juvenile Justice system during their youth. And still, we're not doing enough.

In addition to Summer Learning Loss, there are two critical pillars to reading by third grade: attendance and readiness. Asthma and lead are equally pernicious in how they assault these two pillars and negatively affect children. This past Tuesday, at a GHHI event, HUD Secretary Julian Castro announced a $4 million dollar grant for lead abatement and clean up of unhealthy homes in Baltimore, a very good start indeed. We know this works. In fact according to a GHHI study, interventions increased school attendance by 62 percent -- that's what I'd call momentum towards success. This could be a model for how we take this on as a country. Over 100 years ago, Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing said it, "The connection between health and the dwelling of the population is one of the most important that exists." I think it's time we heard that message.