CHICAGO — Texan border communities known as “colonias” are so stressful to live in that they are having toxic effects on residents, a new study finds.
Crushing poverty, substandard housing, and lack of resources are all contributing to the public health issue highlighted in new research conducted by pediatric doctors. Presented on Sunday at the American Academy of Pediatrics 2017 National Conference & Exhibition taking place in Chicago, the study findings were the result of 63 surveys as well as home visits to colonia residents.
“As a pediatrician, I was saddened to witness the level of toxic stress the colonia residents and children had to endure,” says co-lead researcher Dr. Pei-Yuan Pearl Tsou in a press release. “But I was also extremely moved by their inspiring resilience and their active participation in our study as well as other community organizing efforts to take on these challenges.”
Among the problems the 300,000 families living in these Texas towns face, researchers cited lack of water, electricity, paved roads, street lights, adequate sewage, wastewater treatment, and trash collection. They also noted that the vast majority of residents in the border towns surveyed didn’t think their homes could withstand natural disasters.
These homes were also rife with mold and pest issues, leading to feelings of social isolation among those surveyed.
“Poor housing impedes all modes of self-care that are prescribed daily by primary care physicians throughout the world. We hope to shine a light on the inhumane realities that children and their caregivers are facing in the colonias,” says co-lead researcher Dr. Reshem Agarwal. “These children need public policies and interventions that help buffer the dangerous effects of poverty, and the first step is acknowledging that these communities are too often forgotten.”
The doctors said a startling 82 percent of the residents reported one or more chronic diseases in their household. Mental health issues were likewise unusually prevalent.
The findings fall in line with other reports documenting the poor conditions of the border communities.
“There aren’t any drains here,” says colonia resident Yolanda Reyna in an Al Jazeera article. “The flooding is very bad around my house when it rains, especially in the front. It’s hard to drive and the water gets so high that it gets in the cars and damages the carpet.”
While Reyna makes about $7,000 a year at a bakery according to the article, another resident named Flor Martinez reportedly makes less than $3,000 a year.
“It floods so much when it rains here,” Martinez says in the story. “People get sick more often, and it makes it harder for kids to go outside [to play].”
Hoping their study will help with the plight of such residents, the researchers said the data they gathered could be used by community organizations, health care workers, and state-level policy makers to develop strategies to improve the situation.
According to the news release, only the study abstract was presented at the pediatrics conference. A more detailed journal publication and further data may be available at a later date.
The American Academy of Pediatrics 2017 National Conference & Exhibition continues through Tuesday.