Housing and health researcher Poutoko Taiea Sesquicentennial Distinguished Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman CNZM QSO FRSNZ says she is honoured to be awarded the University’s top honour – the Distinguished Research Medal for 2023.
Co-director with Professor Nevil Pierse of He Kāinga Oranga/Housing and Health Research Programme on the Wellington campus, Professor Howden-Chapman and her team, along with Māori community collaborators, have been conducting world-leading research on healthy homes for almost three decades.
Under Professor Howden-Chapman’s inspirational leadership, He Kāinga Oranga researchers have demonstrated the value of housing improvements, including insulation, clean and efficient heating and research-based regulatory standards for private rentals in improving health and wellbeing.
Their work has extended to working directly with Stats NZ to get questions added to the New Zealand Census for the first time on the level of dampness and mould in homes, as well as on the numbers of people experiencing homelessness and severe housing deprivation.
Together their research findings form a base of evidence showing that warm, dry, safe housing significantly reduces the rates of infectious, respiratory and cardiovascular disease and deaths, and slips, trips and falls, particularly in children and older people.
Their work has had a major impact on Government policy, directly influencing the introduction of the Warmer Kiwi Homes programme, the Winter Fuel Payment and the Healthy Homes Guarantee Act. The Healthy Homes Standards set warmth and ventilation standards for rental homes based on World Health Organization (WHO) Housing and Health Guidelines, developed by a WHO Housing and Health International Committee chaired by Professor Howden-Chapman.
The Distinguished Research Medal is the most prestigious award the University presents annually. It aims to promote research at Otago and give recognition to the outstanding performance of individual researchers or research teams.
Professor Howden-Chapman says she is humbled by being chosen as one of only a select few Otago academics to be awarded the medal.
“I am honoured to be joining a very distinguished group of Otago researchers, including the late Professor Richie Poulton, who have received this award and whom I have long admired.”
She paid tribute to the multi-disciplinary researchers in the He Kāinga Oranga team in the Department of Public Health, their colleagues in other universities and to the other community organisations, such as the Wainuiomata Marae Trust, the building research association BRANZ, the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA), the Waitara Initiatives Supporting Employment Trust (WISE) and the Sustainability Trust, which have supported and enabled their work.
“I am delighted that my team’s research carried out with communities has been recognised for the policy-focused evidence we have built up over nearly three decades.
“Together we have been able to identify cost-effective housing interventions which, if implemented, can go a long way towards reducing inequalities, both in New Zealand and internationally.”
The award is the latest in a series of national and international accolades for Professor Howden-Chapman and her team of researchers.
They were awarded the Rutherford Medal, New Zealand’s top research honour by the Royal Society Te Apārangi in 2021, and the Prime Minister’s Science Prize in 2014. Professor Howden-Chapman was the first woman and the first social scientist (she trained as a clinical psychologist) to win the Prize. In 2008, she was awarded the Royal Society Te Apārangi Dame Joan Metge Medal for contributions to social science and the Health Research Council’s Liley Medal for excellence in health research.
Professor Howden-Chapman was judged Woman of the Year in 2018 by women’s magazine NEXT, in recognition of her success in translating research findings into a benefit for society.
The team’s work has recently been profiled in a BBC podcast and on Japanese television.
Professor Howden-Chapman is a director on the board of Crown Agency Kāinga Ora - Homes and Communities.
She was one of seven leading scholars appointed as inaugural Sesquicentennial Distinguished Chairs, Poutoko Taiea, by the University in 2019.
- Kōrero by Cheryl Norrie, Communications Adviser, University of Otago, Wellington.