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Overcrowding and Hazardous Dwelling Condition Characteristics: A Systematic Search and Scoping Review of Relevance for Health

Institute of Environmental Medicine, Integrative Toxicology, Karolinska Institutet, SE-171 77 Stockholm, Sweden
Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Region Stockholm, SE-113 65 Stockholm, Sweden
KTH Royal Institute of Technology, SE-100 44 Stockholm, Sweden
RISE Research Institutes of Sweden, SE-501 15 Borås, Sweden
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2022, 19(23), 15542;
Submission received: 21 October 2022 / Revised: 10 November 2022 / Accepted: 15 November 2022 / Published: 23 November 2022
(This article belongs to the Section Environmental Health)


Crowding in dwellings is an important public health issue. We hypothesize that overcrowding may cause indirect health effects by adversely affecting the dwelling itself, for example, by increasing dampness leading to mold. We therefore performed a systematic search and a scoping review on overcrowding leading to dwelling condition characteristics of relevance for health. A literature search was performed using the PubMed and Scopus databases up to 5 March 2021. The search yielded 100 records with relevant information. We found that overcrowding is defined in numerous ways and often address “socially deprived” populations. Six studies report associations of overcrowding with at least one dwelling condition characteristic, namely lead, cadmium, microorganism distribution, dust mite and cockroach allergens in dust, cockroach infestation, peeling paint, and mold. One of the studies reports associations between several characteristics, e.g., association of mold with cleanliness and rodent infestation, and points out the common use of pesticides. Additional characteristics were extracted from the remaining 94 records, without data on statistical associations with overcrowding. Our review suggests that multiple potentially hazardous dwelling condition characteristics often coincide in overcrowded dwellings. The epidemiological attribution of health effects to any characteristic is therefore difficult. Causal relationships are even more difficult to establish, as overcrowding is also associated with a range of social and other circumstances that may affect health. The complexity should be considered by scientists and practitioners dealing with overcrowding in dwellings.

1. Introduction

Article 25 of The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including …..housing” [1]. In line with this, the “Housing and Health Guidelines” by the World Health Organization (WHO) highlights housing as an important public health issue, based on systematic literature reviews up to 2018 [2]. One chapter in the guidelines deals with household crowding and points to key health outcomes of interest for further studies, i.e., tuberculosis and other infectious diseases, gastroenteritis and diarrheal diseases, sleep quality, intimate partner violence, and mental health. Another chapter, which deals with low temperatures and insulation, informs that water vapor produced by human metabolism and household activities may, in the absence of adequate ventilation, lead to increased humidity and growth of mold. Consequently, too many residents in a dwelling according to codes and norms, i.e., overcrowding, may increase indoor humidity and lead to potentially hazardous mold.
We hypothesize that overcrowding, in addition to mold, may lead to several biological, chemical, and physical exposures of relevance for health (Figure 1). The identification and awareness of such hazardous environmental exposures is important for taking rational measures to prevent or reduce their adverse impact on health. The aim in this review was to extract and synthesize information from the literature on overcrowding leading to hazardous dwelling condition characteristics.

2. Materials and Methods

2.1. Systematic Review

Our review followed the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines [3] and was registered (CRD42020126810) in the PROSPERO international database of prospectively registered systematic reviews. The registered review question, posed in relation to health, was “which characteristics of dwelling conditions are described in connection to the dwellings being overcrowded?”

2.2. Identification and Screening of Records

The PubMed and Scopus databases were searched (up to 5 March 2021) for records on overcrowding (or similar descriptors), in dwellings (or similar descriptors), and in current member countries of The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) (see Appendix A: Search strategy). The title and abstract had to be in English. Identified records were imported in Rayyan, an online tool for systematic review (, accessed 21 November 2022) and duplicates were removed. Using Rayyan, two investigators (authors J.C.L. and F.B.) independently screened the titles and abstracts of all records (other text if abstract not available) and excluded those that did not mention any dwelling condition characteristic. The characteristics had to be something specific (e.g., mold) or non-specific (e.g., “unclean”) that will remain in the dwelling after the evacuation of residents and their belongings, thus including effects on the dwelling construction and interiors but excluding, e.g., moisture/dampness in materials and air, and airborne contaminants. Cases of disagreement were solved by discussion, ending in consensus.

2.3. Assessing Records for Eligibility, Including Records Identified during Assessment

Two investigators (authors J.C.L., F.B., G.J., and S.S., in different combinations) independently assessed the remaining records for eligibility. Records were excluded if the full text lacked relevant information. During assessment, the reference lists and texts were screened for additional records, and those identified by hand searching were also assessed for eligibility. Cases of disagreement were solved by discussion with all four authors, ending in consensus.

2.4. Data Extraction and Synthesis of Eligible Studies

Any content deemed relevant was extracted and summarized. The records were divided in two categories according to the level of information regarding overcrowding and dwelling condition characteristic(s). Thus, records presenting quantitative information on both variables were assigned as category A, while those lacking quantitative information on one or both variables were assigned as category B. Categorizations and data extractions were performed independently by at least two authors and cases of disagreement were solved by discussion with all four authors, ending in consensus. Category A studies were scrutinized from four aspects: (1) descriptions and definitions of overcrowding, (2) description of dwelling condition characteristics, (3) numerical measures of the two variables, and (4) quantitative associations between the two variables. Each study was condensed to a short description of the four aspects. From records in Category B, any content deemed relevant was extracted. Finally, an overall synthesis was made.

3. Results

3.1. Identification, Screening, and Assessment of Records for Eligibility

A total of 5518 of records were identified by searches in PubMed (n = 2313) and Scopus (n = 3205); this was reduced to 4608 unique records after the removal of duplicates (Figure 2). Most of the records were excluded (n = 4500) during screening of abstracts and titles (or other available text) for various reasons. For example, some records were excluded because they addressed irrelevant topics, such as crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, crowding of animals, or crowding of people outside dwellings. Nonetheless, most of the excluded records dealt with the intended meaning of overcrowding in dwellings; however, the title/abstract did not mention any dwelling condition characteristic. Following this first screening, 108 records remained; these were retrieved in full-text format and assessed for eligibility. During this procedure, four additional records were identified, retrieved as full-texts, and assessed, giving a total of 112 records. Finally, 12 records were excluded as the content selected for in the title and abstract did not correspond to the content in the full text. Thus, our record identification, screening, and assessment resulted in the inclusion of 100 records [4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20,21,22,23,24,25,26,27,28,29,30,31,32,33,34,35,36,37,38,39,40,41,42,43,44,45,46,47,48,49,50,51,52,53,54,55,56,57,58,59,60,61,62,63,64,65,66,67,68,69,70,71,72,73,74,75,76,77,78,79,80,81,82,83,84,85,86,87,88,89,90,91,92,93,94,95,96,97,98,99,100,101,102,103] for data extraction and synthesis (Figure 2).

3.2. Description of Eligible Records, Data Extraction, and Categorization

The 100 eligible records (Appendix B: Table A1,) covered different aspects of public health but are otherwise highly heterogenous, e.g., in the scope, methods used, and types of text, e.g., research articles, reviews [6,12,17,33,41,43,48,52,57,60,62,99,101], overviews, syntheses [30,63], position statement [87], discussion paper [45], perspectives [37,77], book chapter [4], proceedings [76], conference paper [26], and reports/studies from authorities [27,56]. The papers are published between 2020 and 1976, some being historical accounts. For example, one paper describes Dublin as the unhealthiest major city in Britain and Ireland around 1850 [4], and another pictures filth and disorder in Toronto slums around 1910 [18]. We note that overcrowding is defined in numerous ways (Appendix B: Table A2) and that “socially deprived” residents are often in focus. At least 36 records address ethnic dimensions, and many of these deal with migrants, immigrants, or indigenous populations (Appendix B: Table A1). Four full texts were non-English, namely Turkish [11], Italian [22], Hungarian [46], or Spanish [103]. Taken together, the 100 records describe dwellings condition characteristics in more than 20 OECD countries (Appendix B: Table A1). Their content is reflected by the abstracts, which often mention, in different wordings, dwellings lacking hygiene (n = 19), needing repair (n = 27), with mold/mildew/fungi (n = 34), or with pests or vermin (n = 18), i.e., rodents and insects, e.g., bedbugs and triatomines (Appendix B: Table A1). None of the papers provide evidence of causation, i.e., that overcrowding leads to any dwelling condition characteristic(s). Still, several papers addressed the issue, providing information summarized in the synthesis section. Categorization of the records yielded 94 in category B and only six in category A (Figure 2), i.e., where the authors, beside presenting clear information on overcrowding and dwelling condition characteristics, also calculate their statistic association.

3.3. Data Extraction from Eligible Records in Category A

In the six category A studies [21,49,59,69,82,85] overcrowding associated with water damage and the following specific dwelling condition characteristics: mold, peeling paint cockroach, microorganism distribution in dust, cockroach allergen in dust, dust-mite allergen in dust, lead in dust, and cadmium in dust (Table 1). In addition, three characteristics showed trends towards increases, i.e., rodents (rats and mice), rotting wood, and leaks under sinks. These characteristics could coincide, e.g., Bradman et al. [21] reported the association of rodent or cockroach infestation with peeling paint, water damage, mold (rodent only), and level of cleanliness. About half of the studied families used pesticides in their homes, but the potential association of pesticides with overcrowding and other characteristics was not reported.

3.4. Data Extraction from Eligible Records in Category B

Some of the 94 category B papers described dwelling condition characteristics not previously mentioned, e.g., fomites and surfaces contaminated with infectious agents, and pests serving as vectors [9,62] for pathogenic bacteria, viruses, and amoebas. Characteristics sometimes coincide or are combined; for example, Huet et al. [50] used the following survey question to define need of repair: ‘‘Does your home have a problem with mold or is in need of major repairs (for example: a new roof, plumbing repairs, structural repairs)?’’. Characteristics are sometimes even combined into an index [54,94]. Thus, Keall et al. [54] devised a respiratory hazard index that includes mold on indoor walls, fungi/mold on joists or bearers, and major or minor leaks in roofs. Concerning disrepair and physical characteristics, Quandt et al. [81] give many examples of injury hazards, divided into five types, three of relevance for hazardous dwelling condition characteristics, i.e., structural defects, electrical hazards, and fire hazards. This study points out that pest control measures increase with the level of housing disrepair reported [81]. One record state that it is common practice to use anti-fungal paints to treat mold [39]; another reference states that the presence of pests also increases exposure to the pesticides used to control infestations [87].

3.5. Synthesis of Eligible Records

Overall, the papers define overcrowding in numerous ways and often focus on “socially deprived” residents. Overcrowded dwellings are often referred to as, e.g., “deteriorated”, “bad housing”, “inferior housing”, “substandard housing”, and “social housing”. These dwellings are in bad condition and can contain several hazardous dwelling condition characteristics. None of the records prove that overcrowding leads to these characteristics; however, many address circumstances pointing in that direction. For example, Howden-Chapman et al. report that mold associates not only with the number of residents but also with various activities, i.e., frequency of baths, showering and washing clothes [49]. Other activities influenced by overcrowding include going in and out, wear and tear, fomite generation, waste disposal, pest control, cleaning, sanitation, repair, and maintenance. We synthesize this information into a mind map (Figure 3).
As illustrated in Figure 3, overcrowding can lead to more or less of various activities. These changes may in turn affect the dwelling condition and lead to different characteristics. For mold to occur, moisture levels need to surpass a threshold for microbial growth. Other characteristics may not have thresholds, as when, for example, less efficient cleaning, waste disposal, maintenance, and pest control become beneficial for insects and rodents. Pests (and other environmental factors) may also relate to more persons going in and out, i.e., being introduced by the take-home route, particularly when people travel back from geographic regions where pests are more common [60]. Mold and pests lead to the use of various biocides [87], i.e., toxic chemicals. The resulting combinations of environmental dwelling condition characteristics may be very complex. Still, many characteristics can be amended at low cost [61], and solutions include education and changing activities and behaviors [38,49,75].

4. Discussion

Our initial hypothesis was that overcrowding in dwellings may lead to several biological, chemical, and physical dwelling condition characteristics of relevance for health. During extraction of such characteristics from reviewed literature, we found that many studies had quantitative data on both characteristic(s) and overcrowding but only a few presented data on their association. Thus, only a few studies were suited for analysis in line with systemic review. In order not to lose important information, we decided to map the relevant literature and to identify key observations in line with a scoping review. We encourage researchers to study and report the statistical associations, whenever possible, to increase the data base on overcrowding and dwelling condition characteristics of relevance for health.
Eight key observations evolved during the review work. First, while many individual papers describe one or a few hazardous characteristics, the records collectively provide evidence of many characteristics. Second, many characteristics may coincide in a dwelling (Table 1 and Figure 3). Third, biological characteristics such as mold and pests may often coincide with the use of toxic chemicals (biocides/pesticides). Fourth, overcrowding is described in numerous different ways, making it difficult to compare studies. Fifth, papers often focus on “socially deprived” groups. Sixth, while many papers present quantitative data on overcrowding and characteristic(s), very few present statistical information on their association. One reason for the lack of statistical analyses may be that the association is considered common knowledge, stemming from historical challenges that lead to the development of building codes and norms, including ventilation standards (not covered herein).
Thus, many OECD countries have solid experience with crowded city slums, representing various perceived threats to ordered society. Concerning health, some countries initiated national measures relating to housing already in the early 19th century, as the relation between housing conditions and health was recognized among public health practitioners in Europe and the United States [104]. On this background, the focus on “socially deprived” residents in many records and the numerous ways to describe overcrowding seem logical. Countries use different definitions of overcrowding and address the issue for different purposes, such as research, statistical reporting, regulation, and administration, e.g., for allocating housing and delivering social assistance [105].
Obviously, overcrowding does not necessarily lead to detrimental indoor environments, and dwellings may very well “deteriorate” without overcrowding, in many ways and for many reasons. Still, it is both logical and supported by the information in the reviewed records that overcrowding may lead to the characteristics we present. Two Swedish studies are telling in this context, reporting mold [82] and risk of mold [71], as far more residents than intended moved into carefully planned dwellings and city districts [71,82].
Importantly, from a public health perspective, mold and many other characteristics relate to activities that can be modified. Since human behaviors are outside the scope of this review, we did not cover habits that would influence characteristics or introduce new ones. For example, smoking and keeping pets, which would add pet allergens and carcinogenic tobacco smoke chemicals to dust, were not addressed.
Notably, our aim was not to assess the wide range of health effects attributed to overcrowding and/or dwelling condition characteristic(s), often mold. However, it is worth mentioning that overcrowding might also be beneficial [44]. One record reported that mold influences birth outcomes [32], but the most common health impact attributed to mold was respiratory symptoms and diseases, mainly asthma. Two studies on asthma dealt with psychologic stress [63,90].
This leads to the seventh key observation of our review, that it may be very difficult in epidemiological studies to understand what overcrowding represents and to disentangle all the potential environmental and social factors that could affect health outcomes, including behaviors. Several reviewed records emphasize complexity. In line with this, the 2018 WHO report on housing and health expresses concern regarding the causality of outcomes attributed to overcrowding, due to “the study designs, and the close association between social deprivation and crowding” [2]. Furthermore, a 2009 WHO report on dampness and mold present many potential environmental factors behind epidemiological associations of various health outcomes with water (dampness, humidity, moisture, and leaks) [106]. The presented biological and non-biological exposures partly overlap the characteristics described herein. However, neither of the two WHO reviews explicitly state that overcrowding, dampness, and mold may be interconnected [2,106]. Thus, our study not only complements the WHO reviews but also may bring new dimensions to the past and present epidemiological research, e.g., on asthma.
Our eighth and final key observation in relation to overcrowding is that pesticides/biocides are, reasonably, a major public health concern and have been for a long time. Several of the records we reviewed cover biocides used indoors against mold and vermin, e.g., [9,21,27,28,33,36,60,81,87,101]. The experts behind the WHO report on dampness and mold speculated that “the levels of semi-volatile compounds, such as pentachlorophenol (a wood preservative) and other pesticides, may also be elevated in damp indoor environments”. Two subsequent papers provided evidence for this, e.g., that chlorophenols were widely used in the 1950–1980s against mold indoors and fungi in damp constructions, giving rise to odor potent chloroanisoles that smell like mold [107,108].
Current public health advice is to limit application of pesticides, use pesticides least toxic to humans, and involve and educate residents in pest management [109]. Regarding pests, “deteriorated” dwellings, with or without mold, may contain several allergen sources, e.g., dust-mites, cockroaches, and rodents. This insight is important, e.g., for identifying allergies, handling respiratory symptoms of residents, and remediating indoor environments.
Concerning how this review was performed, our search strategy, based on “crowd”, may have missed relevant records that uses other terms, e.g., “residential density” or “household density”. Still, most of the relevant literature was likely captured as our complementing hand search for such terms yielded only a few additional studies. Further, we did not cover related terms, such “household size”, “family size” as these only represent one dimension of overcrowding, the other being spatial. We note that a 2012 WHO report on “Environmental health inequalities in Europe” points out that condensation or mold associate with poor social conditions associated with large family size and gives rise to humidity [110].
Societal actions to reduce overcrowding is likely to have a broad range of beneficial effects on wellbeing and health. Meanwhile, systematic reviews on studies dealing with health in relation to housing, overcrowding, and remediation often point to a lack of sufficient scientific rigor [2,111,112]. Most likely because the topic is very complex, involving many social and environmental aspects, making it inherently difficult to study. Even though we limited our review to specific environmental exposures in overcrowded dwellings, the results point to highly complex exposure situations.
The exposure complexity and connected health risks seem to have a global distribution. However, from a broader health perspective, it is worth pointing out that in countries where crowded housing is socially accepted, crowding might not necessarily lead to health issues in the same way as in countries with more narrow norms.
Finally, a systematic search today would most likely capture many studies on COVID-19; however, the topic of infectious diseases spread by fomites is already covered in our study.

5. Conclusions

To our knowledge, this is the first review based on the hypothesis that overcrowding in dwellings may lead to several dwelling condition characteristics of relevance for health. We present evidence supporting our hypothesis, suggesting that overcrowding in dwellings, defined in different ways, may associate with a broad range of hazardous characteristics, for example increased occurrence of mold, vermin, and allergens, as well as increased use of biocides (Figure 3). Each exposure may be recognized in public health, but our data highlight complex exposure situations.
Actions to prevent or reduce the health impact of the various exposures are important and should preferably include involving residents, for example by providing information on how they themselves might contribute to a healthier indoor environment.
While the occurrence of mold is often reported, it is important to note that it may coincide with other characteristics. Furthermore, both overcrowding and mold may covary with (indicate or be a proxy for) various social and behavioral circumstances.
Consequently, the epidemiological attribution of health effects to any exposure is difficult, with the attribution of causal relationships even more so. The complexity should be considered by scientists and practitioners dealing with overcrowding in dwellings.
A universal definition of overcrowding might be difficult to attain, considering differences in cultural norms, traditions, legislations, etc. Nevertheless, more harmonized terms and definitions would benefit future research in the area. Further, with respect to future research:
  • More in-depth studies on the effects of overcrowding on the dwelling are needed. Such studies should preferably contain quantitative data, including definitions and measures of overcrowding, measures of effects, and relations between these parameters.
  • Longitudinal cohort studies with quantitative data of the above type are needed. Such studies would facilitate the establishment of causal relationships between overcrowding and dwelling characteristics.
  • Intervention studies are needed to investigate the impact of, for example, discussions and education of residents on how the indoor environment can be improved, changes in indoor climate control (ventilation, heating, air conditioning, etc.), and introduction of maintenance and repair plans.

Author Contributions

J.C.L., G.J., F.B. and S.S. contributed to all parts of the work, including conceptualization, methodology, validation, formal analysis, investigation, resources, data curation, writing—original draft preparation, writing—review and editing, visualization, supervision, project administration, and funding acquisition. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This research was funded by the Swedish research council FORMAS, grant number 2018-00295.

Institutional Review Board Statement

Not applicable.

Informed Consent Statement

Not applicable.

Data Availability Statement

Not applicable.


The authors thank Anna Sidorchuk (Ph.D.) for valuable input on this systematic review.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Appendix A. Search Strategy

PubMed and Scopus were searched (title, abstract, keywords, and mesh-terms), using the following search string:
*crowd* AND (indoor OR building OR household* OR home* OR dwelling OR residen* OR housing OR house*) AND (“united states” OR “united kingdom” OR germany OR australia OR canada OR italy OR japan OR france OR netherlands OR spain OR switzerland OR sweden OR “new Zealand” OR denmark OR poland OR ireland OR turkey OR israel OR portugal OR finland OR austria OR greece OR mexico OR belgium OR norway OR “czech republic” OR chile OR hungary OR estonia OR luxembourg OR lithuania OR iceland OR latvia OR “slovak republic” OR slovenia OR korea OR europe OR America OR colombia).

Appendix B

Table A1. Overview of content in the 100 records included in this scoping review. Country codes are given according to ISO Alpha 3 standard. Country code refers to the location of the dwellings under study. Year refers to the publication year.
Table A1. Overview of content in the 100 records included in this scoping review. Country codes are given according to ISO Alpha 3 standard. Country code refers to the location of the dwellings under study. Year refers to the publication year.
Main Dwelling Condition
Characteristic(s) in the Abstract
Population(s) in
Allergens, respiratory irritants, infectious agentsn.d.AUS2001[19]
Altered microbial exposuren.d.AUS2019[30]
Biological factorsIndigenousSeveral2017[17]
Cleaning of dwellingsImmigrant Latino farmworker familiesUSA2006[28]
Cleanliness, pestsn.d.USA2013[101]
Cockroach, dust miten.d.USA2001[93]
Contaminated surfaces, Hepatitis B virusEskimoUSA1976[78]
Contamination of surfaces, S aureusn.d.USA2020[79]
Deteriorated (no abstract)Black familiesUSA2010[84]
Deterioration (i.e., peeling
paint, holes in floor, broken windows)
Fragile familiesUSA2010[90]
Disrepair, allergens, toxicantsIndigenous, non-indigenousAUS2010[27]
Disrepair, allergens, toxicantsIndigenous, non-indigenousSeveral2010[26]
Disrepair, cockroaches, mold, rotting wood, rodents, water damage, peeling paint, pesticides, less cleanImmigrants, pregnant Latina women, low incomeUSA2005[21]
Domestic hygiene, non-functioning infrastructureAboriginal childrenAUS2009[67]
Dust from hobbiesn.d.CAN1989[47]
Dust mite allergens, cockroach allergensAsthmatic childrenUSA2002[59]
Dust mite, fungi, molds, bacterian.d.FRA2015[85]
Dust, cockroach allergenn.d.USA1996[88]
Dust, house dust mite, allergensn.d.GBR2007[44]
Environmental hygieneRoma, non-Roma, unemployedHUN2014[46]
Filth (no abstract)Inhabitants in slum conditionsCAN2004[18]
House dust mites, fungi, maintenancen.d.Several1996[48]
House dust mites, insufficient cleaningn.d.TUR2007[11]
HygieneAboriginal childrenAUS2009[41]
HygieneLatina immigrant womenUSA2004[38]
Hygiene, cleanlinessn.d.GBR2008[45]
Hygiene, contaminated fomites,
C diphteriae
Inhabitants in skid road conditions, mainly alcoholicsUSA1989[43]
Hygiene, Helicobacter pylorin.d.POL2014[98]
Hygiene, infrastructure functionIndigenous AUS2010[13]
Hygiene, sanitationn.d.DEN,
Hygieneic state of housesIndigenousAUS2012[14]
InsanitaryInhabitants in areas
of extreme poverty
Lack of hygiene (attendant bacteria
and fungi)
Inhabitants in areas
of extreme poverty
Leaking roofn.d.Several2015[20]
Major repairs neededInuitsCAN2020[83]
Moisture damagen.d.SWE2019[71]
MoldFirst nationsCAN2012[75]
MoldItalians, foreignersITA2012[22]
MoldMaori, non-MaoriNZL2019[51]
MoldMaori, PacificNZL2013[55]
MoldMaori, PacificNZL2017[74]
MoldImmigrant familiesSWE2018[82]
Mold or mildewn.d.NZL2016[96]
Mold, allergens, pathogenic organismsn.d.GBR2015[99]
Mold, allergens, pollutantsn.d.USA2006[63]
Mold, mildew, allergens, pesticides, structural deficienciesFarmworkersUSA2015[81]
Mold, need of major repairsInuitsCAN2011[70]
Mold, pests, plumbing leaksMexican immigrant familiesUSA2009[61]
Mold, poor repairFirst nationsCAN2011[58]
Mold, structural deficienciesFirst nationCAN2012[64]
Mold, water leakage, cleaningLow-income peopleKOR2014[89]
Molds, fungin.d.FRA2008[86]
Moldy housing conditionsSocially deprived residentsGBR1999[16]
Need major repairsInuit childrenCAN2015[56]
Need of major repairsInuit childrenCAN2010[29]
Need of major repairsInuitsCAN2012[50]
Need of renovationn.d.DEU2004[80]
Pollutants, microbial products,
Ethnic minorities, poor residentsUSA2010[52]
PollutionResidents in underserved communityCHL2014[66]
Poor dwelling conditionsAboriginalsAUS2016[7]
Poor housing conditionsAboriginal childrenAUS2005[15]
Poor housing conditions, hazardsMigrant farmworkersUSA2015[95]
Poor hygiene, Helicobacter pylori, houseflyn.d.Several2000[62]
Rats, rat fleas, vectors, Rickettsia typhi, insecticides, rodenticidesn.d.USA2021[9]
RepairFirst nations, Inuit childrenSeveral2012[57]
RepairFragile familiesUSA2011[94]
Repair, Infestationsn.d.CAN2015[87]
Repair, moisture damageSocial housing residentsCHL2019[39]
Rot in window frames, a leaky roofHousing deprivationESP2008[72]
SARS-CoV-2 on surfaces of fomitesn.d.Several2020[12]
Sedimented dust, lead, cadmiumn.d.DEU1999[69]
Sewage, pests, vermin, mold, mildewIndigenousAUS2018[6]
Structural hazardsn.d.USA2019[53]
Structural problems, mildew, verminAboriginalsAUS2018[8]
Structural problems, roof leaksLatino farmworker familiesUSA2007[36]
Synanthropic rodents, sanitary conditions, Leptospira spp.n.d.COL2013[103]
Unhygienic conditionsItalians, foreignersITA2020[25]
Unsanitary conditions, toxins, pollutantsn.d.USA2003[77]
Unsanitary residential conditionsLow-income residentsCOL2017[76]
n.d., not determined. No obvious focus on “socially deprived” residents or ethnic dimensions. Several, locations in several countries of the dwellings under study, e.g., in multi-center papers and reviews.
Table A2. Expressions used to describe or define crowdedness in the 100 records included in this scoping review. Country codes are given according to ISO Alpha 3 standard. Country code refers to the location of the dwellings under study. Year refers to when the dwellings were investigated.
Table A2. Expressions used to describe or define crowdedness in the 100 records included in this scoping review. Country codes are given according to ISO Alpha 3 standard. Country code refers to the location of the dwellings under study. Year refers to when the dwellings were investigated.
Categories (in Italics) and ExpressionsCountry CodeYearReference
Persons per household
Number of house residents: 1–2, 2–4, 5 or more.NZL2000[49]
Mean number of residents in the homes.CHL2014 [66]
Average number of people per household.AUS2004–2005[14]
Number of other siblings in the family.GBR1991–1992[16]
Domestic crowding: number of people in the household not controlling for the size of the home. C1: 5 or more, C2: 1–4.USA1989 [47]
Persons per dwelling area
Number of individuals residing in the dwelling in relation to its surface area higher than the value envisaged by articles 2–3 of the 1975 Ministerial Decree (<14 m2 per person för de first four, <10 m2 per person for each of the following).ITA2012–2016[25]
Number of persons per m2. Crowding: those above the 75th percentile.RUS1988–1999[35]
Crowded housing conditions: <21 m2 per capita.DEU2003–2006[23]
Floor area per person: <10 m2, more than 20 m2.POL2002–2003[98]
The home has at least 100 ft2 of living space per person.USA2013–2016[53]
<20 m2 per person.DEU2014–2015[100]
Occupation ratio, i.e., occupants per m2. FRA2011[85]
Total area of house divided by number of persons who permanently resided therein.CAN2007–2008[58]
Crowding factor calculated as house size divided by number of family members (27.9 m2 per person on average for households in the sample).KOR2010–2011[89]
Persons per room
People per room. The US Census considers >1 person per room to be crowded.n.a. n.a. [33]
Less or more than 1 person per room.
For household crowding, Statistics Canada’s definition of more than one person per room was used, where rooms included bedrooms, kitchen and living room.
Number of persons per room.GBR
More than 1.5 persons per room.GBR
Crowded household: more than 1 person per room.USA2001[28]
Crowding: average occupancy of 1.01 or more, extremely crowded: 1.51 or more persons per room.USA2015 [81]
Not crowded: <0.5, crowded: 0.51–1.5, severely crowded: ≥1.51 persons per room.USA1988–1994[93]
Number of persons per room.GBR1991–1992[16]
More than 1 person per room.GBR
Canada’s household crowding definition of more than 1 person/room was used where rooms included bedrooms, kitchen, and living room.CAN
Persons per room, more than 1, more than 1.5.CAN2006[56]
Number of persons living in a dwelling divided by number of rooms in the dwelling, excluding bathrooms or storage areas.CAN2007–2008[58]
Overcrowding: >1 person per room, severe overcrowding: >1.5 persons per room.USA2005–2007[61]
Overcrowding: occupancy level exceeding more than one person per room.CANn.a. §[75]
Number of persons in household divided by number of rooms. Households then dichotomized into low crowding (two thirds of the households) and high crowding.DEU1999[80]
Number of household members divided by number
of household rooms.
DEN, SWE1999–2002[91]
Persons per bedroom
Number of residents per bedroom; <2 (reference), 2–4, >4.AUS2005 [15]
Child shares bedroom.CHE1988–1999[35]
Number of persons per bedroom. Crowding: those above the 75th percentile.USA, CAN1988–1999[35]
Number of residents per bedroom.NZL2000[49]
The mean number of persons per bedroom.AUS2002[67]
People per bedroom.USA2012–2015[79]
Household members per bedroom.NZL2007–2008[54]
Overcrowding exists, with community members reporting 3-bedroom homes sheltering 9–10 people.CAN2012 [64]
On the basis of the housing occupancy standard of a maximum of two persons for each available bedroom (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2000), AUS2010 [68]
84 households (65%) were classified as crowded: more than one person per bedroom.SWE2009–2018[82]
Persons at certain age
Number of residents below 18 years.NZL2000[49]
Number of rooms less than the number of adults >16 years.ESP1998[72]
Number of small children (<5 years) at home: 0, 1, 2, >2.SWE1988–1989[73]
Persons sharing bed
Functional overcrowding because children share room or bed because they need to keep warm. NZL2012[55]
Crowding at area level
Average dwelling crowding for a local area ex-pressed as: C I = P B × F T
(P = no. of persons usually resident, B = no. of bedrooms, F = frequency of no. of persons by no. of bedrooms combination, T = total no. of combinations).
Year of publication, year of investigation not stated. n.a., not applicable, review covering several countries and years. § n.a., not applicable, review covering several years. The appendix to the paper has a compilation of definitions of crowding.


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Figure 1. Outline of our underlying hypothesis in the present review. Overcrowding may affect dwellings, leading to dwelling condition characteristics of relevance for health, as exemplified by excess humidity (dampness/moisture) leading to mold. Thus, we did not review associations between overcrowding and health.
Figure 1. Outline of our underlying hypothesis in the present review. Overcrowding may affect dwellings, leading to dwelling condition characteristics of relevance for health, as exemplified by excess humidity (dampness/moisture) leading to mold. Thus, we did not review associations between overcrowding and health.
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Figure 2. Literature search, screening results, and analysis displayed as a PRISMA flow diagram. Figure design adapted from Moher et al. 2009 [3]. Note: PRISMA, Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (
Figure 2. Literature search, screening results, and analysis displayed as a PRISMA flow diagram. Figure design adapted from Moher et al. 2009 [3]. Note: PRISMA, Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (
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Figure 3. Extracted dwelling condition characteristics that may potentially be due to overcrowding and are of relevance for health. The bold text and thin arrow highlight one of the relations, in this case, that too many residents can lead to excess moisture generation and mold.
Figure 3. Extracted dwelling condition characteristics that may potentially be due to overcrowding and are of relevance for health. The bold text and thin arrow highlight one of the relations, in this case, that too many residents can lead to excess moisture generation and mold.
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Table 1. Condensed description of the six studies in category A and extracted specific hazardous dwelling condition characteristics from each study.
Table 1. Condensed description of the six studies in category A and extracted specific hazardous dwelling condition characteristics from each study.
CharacteristicsCondensed Description
Cockroach infestation
Peeling paint
Rodent infestation (NS)
Rotting wood (NS)
Leak under sink (NS)
Pesticides (NR)

several characteristics associate with each other, e.g., mold and cockroach.
Bradman et al. (2004) [21]. Environmental assessments were carried out in 644 homes of pregnant Latina women and their children in an agricultural community in California between October 1999–2000. Participants were recruited via a health clinic serving predominantly low-income Latina clients. Most homes (85%) had four or more household members, and 69% of the homes housed at least one agricultural worker. A large portion (39%) of the homes were crowded, i.e., had more than 1.5 persons per room, and were in bad condition: 58% had peeling paint, 43% had mold, 25% had water damage, and 11% had rotting wood. About half of the families used pesticides in their homes, mainly pyrethroid insecticide sprays and powders. Cockroaches and rodents were present in 60% and 32% of the homes, respectively. Crowded living (more than 1.5 persons per room) was significantly associated with cockroach infestation (odds ratio (OR) 2.7, p < 0.01), peeling paint (OR 2.2, p < 0.01) water damage (OR 2.5, p < 0.05, and mold (OR 1.9, p < 0.05) and weakly (non-significantly) related to rodent infestation (OR 1.1) rotting wood (OR 1.2), and leak under sink (OR 1.1). There were also significant associations between rodent or cockroach infestation and a number of home conditions: peeling paint, water damage, mold (rodent only), and level of cleanliness.
Cockroach allergen
Dust mite allergen
Leaderer et al. (2002) [59]. Dust samples were collected in the living areas of 999 homes of asthmatic children in southern New England, USA, 1996–1998, and analyzed for dust mite, cockroach, cat, and dog allergens. Data on maternal education, income, race, dwelling type (single or multi-family household), population density (people per square mile), and household density (people per room) were collected by home interviews and census data. Logistic regression analyses revealed significantly increased odds ratios for elevated levels of cockroach allergens but lowered levels of mite allergens in low income, black and Hispanic, multi-family, and crowded households (more than one person per room).

Note: cockroach appears to be a common characteristic but is not measured.
Richter et al. (2018) [82] conducted a cross-sectional study among immigrant families in Sweden to assess the contribution of bad housing conditions to poor health. Families were recruited via identification of children with respiratory problems. In all, 130 families (650 individuals) were included. Data on living and dwelling conditions were obtained by the combination of questionnaires and home inspections. Eighty-four of the households were classified as crowded (more than one person per bedroom), and crowdedness was significantly associated with subjective as well as objective reports of dampness and mold. In addition, 416 of the 650 participants underwent skin prick tests against common aeroallergens, including molds, house dust mites, plants, and animal dander, and to cockroach antigen. Crowdedness did not significantly influence the children’s risk for being sensitized overall. However, participants showing sensitization against cockroach allergen (11 in total) were much more likely to live in an apartment with cockroach exposure (p = 0.006) than non-sensitized participants, and all homes with children sensitized against cockroach antigen (5 in total) had cockroach infestation in the past.
MoldHowden-Chapman et al. (2005) [49] undertook a random telephone survey regarding mold and its risk factors in New Zealand houses. In total, 613 household responded (response rate 50.5%). Multivariate analysis revealed that a number of house construction and climate and behavioral factors were significantly related to reported mold, including older house, lack of sun exposure, no insulation, high locality rainfall, living in the north of the country and frequent baths, showers, and clothes washing. With respect to crowdedness, the analysis revealed significant positive relations between the prevalence of mold and number of residents, number of residents below 18 years old, and number of residents per bedroom. With respect to the latter, the prevalence of mold was 29% for less than 1 resident, 34% for 1–1.5 residents, and 48% for more than 1.5 residents per bedroom.
Microorganism distribution (fungi, dust mite, and bacteria)

Note: pesticide use was measured, considered necessary to explain microorganism distribution, but results were not presented.
Rocchi et al. (2015) [85] studied the microorganism composition in dust collected from 3193 French dwellings 2011. Dwellings were recruited via a subsample (EBRA, microbiological environment, and allergic risk) of the Elfe cohort (a large cohort devoted to monitoring children’s development from birth to adulthood). The analyses included six fungal species, three families/genera of bacteria, and house dust mite. Data on 13 dwelling characteristics were collected, namely dwelling type (apartment or house), family situation (owner, tenant, and free), pets, dwelling renovation, pesticide use and potted plants (yes and no), daily housework time, floor covering in bathroom, kitchen and living room (tile, linoleum, parquet, and other), window number, floor number, and occupation ratio (inhabitants per m2). Of these characteristics, occupation ratio, dwelling type (house/apartment), and presence/absence of pets were significantly related to the microorganism distribution in the dwellings, although they only explained a small fraction of the variance (3%). Dust mite; Enterobacteriaceae; and to a lesser extent, C. sphaerospermum were mainly associated with occupation ratio.
Lead in house dust
Cadmium in house dust
Meyer et al. (1999) [69] measured lead and cadmium in house dust collected for one year (starting October 1993–August 1994) from 415 dwellings located in different industrial areas in eastern Germany. Lead and cadmium deposition rates (expressed as µg/m2 per day) were significantly associated with area of residence, urban environment (park, side road, main road, and industrial), type of heating (central/district heating, gas, coal), year of construction, and crowding. Regarding crowding, the average deposition rates were 61% (lead) and 80% (cadmium) higher in sampling rooms with three or more persons, compared to rooms with no persons.
NS, not significant, NR, not reported.
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Lorentzen, J.C.; Johanson, G.; Björk, F.; Stensson, S. Overcrowding and Hazardous Dwelling Condition Characteristics: A Systematic Search and Scoping Review of Relevance for Health. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2022, 19, 15542.

AMA Style

Lorentzen JC, Johanson G, Björk F, Stensson S. Overcrowding and Hazardous Dwelling Condition Characteristics: A Systematic Search and Scoping Review of Relevance for Health. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2022; 19(23):15542.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Lorentzen, Johnny C., Gunnar Johanson, Folke Björk, and Sofia Stensson. 2022. "Overcrowding and Hazardous Dwelling Condition Characteristics: A Systematic Search and Scoping Review of Relevance for Health" International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 19, no. 23: 15542.

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