Healthy home research wins top science prize

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A team of 28 scientists, including Dr Malcolm Cunningham from BRANZ, won the $500,000 2014 Prime Minister’s Science Prize for internationally recognised work on health and housing.

Led by Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman from the University of Otago, the He Kainga Oranga/Housing and Health Research Programme worked nationally to address long-term quality deficiencies in housing. Its focus, in particular, was on how poor housing affects children, older people and those with chronic health conditions such as asthma.

Through large-scale community trials, the team tested, quantified and demonstrated the effectiveness of initiatives such as retrofitting insulation to modern standards, installing effective and non-polluting heating and remediating injury hazards in homes.

One example of its work was the Warm-up New Zealand: Heat Smart Programme, based on research showing that insulation and heating retrofits significantly reduced hospitalisation, the use of medication, energy consumption and premature mortality of people aged 65 and over.

‘Our team feels very honoured to have won the Prime Minister’s Science Prize,’ says Professor Howden-Chapman.

‘It’s a fulsome acknowledgement of the work we’ve done over a decade and a half and a recognition to all those people who’ve been involved in the citizen science, helping us collect data winter after winter, to understand and deal with a really serious problem in New Zealand.’

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