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Contact Energy Sponsors Housing Research

29 September 2005

Contact Energy Sponsors World-leading Housing Research Focused on Children with Asthma

The next phase of world-leading housing and health research is under way, focusing on the effects of the indoor environment on children with asthma.

500 children in five urban and rural communities throughout the country are involved in the new phase of research, which is being conducted by He Kainga Oranga Housing and Health Research Programme at the Wellington School of Medicine and Health Services, University of Otago.

Lead funder for the three year research project is the Health Research Council, with Contact Energy as principal corporate sponsor.

“This is our largest commitment so far to assist in dealing with New Zealand’s unusually high rates of asthma,” said Steve Barrett, Chief Executive of Contact.

“The next phase of research is a major contribution to understanding and addressing how the home can be healthier, especially for the 800,000 children and adults with asthma and respiratory illness in New Zealand.”

Contact is contributing $200,000 a year for the next three years to install modern, energy efficient heating technologies – heat pumps, natural gas heating and wood pellet burners – into 200 homes involved in the study.

The Project Leader of the Housing and Health Research Programme, Associate Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman, said the first phase of the research found insulation to be a cost-effective way for people with asthma and respiratory conditions to improve their health and reduce energy use by up to one quarter.

“The next phase will build on our research findings and examine the effects on children with asthma and their families of further improving the indoor environment by replacing old-style heaters with modern, energy efficient heaters that heat more of the home.

“We know that warm, dry homes help to limit the number and severity of asthma attacks, which can be triggered by viral infections or pollutants. We recognise that mould and indoor air pollutants may play a significant role in some children’s asthma,” she said.

Contact’s funding for installation of new sustainable heaters in homes supports the main intervention in the study.

Philippa Howden-Chapman said keeping a home warm, particularly for infants and young people, or older people who aren’t good at regulating their body temperature, can make a real difference to reducing asthma attacks.

One in four New Zealand children has asthma, one of the highest rates in the world, with asthma being the most common cause of child admissions to hospital. The first phase of research showed that retro-fitting insulation in homes led to reduction in colds, flu and respiratory symptoms, less time off work and school, and fewer doctor and hospital visits.

Steve Barrett said that, as a major energy retailer to New Zealand households, Contact Energy was pleased to help combat the high incidence of asthma in children and the adult population, while at the same time encouraging energy efficiency.

“New Zealand has many cold and damp homes. This is bad for those people living in houses below the minimum 18 degrees recommended for healthy living. But it’s even worse for those with asthma and respiratory conditions.

“Beside insulation and other measures, there are some very simple and practical steps to start making households healthier – and they need not cost a cent.

“Stopping drafts makes a home warmer. Putting a lid on a cooking pot can reduce condensation and reduce dampness in the home. This saves on energy bills because dry air is easier and cheaper to heat, and is healthier for those with asthma,” he said.

“A warm, dry home is in everyone’s interests and it need not cost any more than people already spend on energy,” he said.

Contact’s Healthy Homes project actively encourages its customers and New Zealanders to make their homes warmer and drier. Contact is a major funder of regional Healthy Homes projects to insulate homes in the Hutt Valley, Canterbury and other regions. Contact also sponsored this year’s Asthma Awareness Week, organised by the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation.

The University of Otago’s 23-strong research team, which involves collaboration with BRANZ, Massey University’s Institute of Technology and Engineering and Auckland University’s School of Population Health, is involved in phase two of the research which is providing EECA-funded insulation packages as well as sustainable modern heating to the randomly selected intervention group. The remaining homes in the research will have new heaters installed after the study is complete, in 2006. Research results will be available in 2007.

The five urban and rural communities selected for phase two of the research are Porirua and the Hutt Valley, Christchurch, Dunedin and Bluff:

ENDS


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