Enhancing Environmental data Resources In Cohort studies: ALSPAC exemplar (ERICA)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol

Abstract

Air pollution has a major impact on human health. The Royal College of Physicians - in their 'Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution' report - estimated that air pollution contributes to 40,000 premature deaths in the UK every year. The report describes how air pollution affects health through life, from babies in their mother's womb, to children and into adulthood. Road traffic is a major source of air pollution in the UK. This produces fine pollution particles (PM), and gases such as Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2). We know a lot about the health damage caused by breathing in PMs, but less about the effects of breathing in NO2. Both the UK Government and health professionals have called for more research in this area. The 'Enhancing Environmental data Resources In Cohort studies: ALSPAC exemplar' (ERICA) project aims to improve our understanding of the health effects of breathing in NO2 through using a birth cohort study. Birth cohort studies recruit large numbers of pregnant women into long-term research projects. Health of these women - and their unborn child(ren) - are monitored through pregnancy, birth and childhood. Health information can be linked with information on air pollution exposure during a child's lifetime to investigate important questions, e.g. are children living in high NO2 pollution areas more likely to develop asthma? Evidence from such studies helps the public, health professionals, and politicians understand the impact of air pollution on health, and how much effort and money should be spent on reducing levels of pollution. However, the ability to do this important type of research may be held back by a range of issues and concerns. Firstly, studies need to find historical information on air pollution, and to understand how the records were collected over long periods of time. Secondly, estimating air pollution exposures across a city and surrounding areas and linking this to information on where children live and go to school requires specialist skills. Thirdly, information on where a person lives is private and needs to be kept confidential. The laws and regulations governing how to do this and the use of personal data are changing rapidly. ERICA will then conduct a health study to investigate whether higher levels of NO2 exposure are associated with development of asthma and if they affect lung growth. We will promote the findings of this research to scientists, health professionals and politicians to help them further understand the impact of NO2 pollution. ALSPAC will also be promoted as a resource to investigate the impact of air pollution in childhood on a range of diseases and measures of health. Finally, we will share the methods we have developed with the data managers in other cohort studies. ERICA will help show how feasible it is to use a birth cohort study to conduct research on the impact of the environment on health, and to form a model that could be used to benefit environmental health research in other cohorts and expanded to other environmental exposures as well as air pollution.

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