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Developing a National-Scale Exposure Index for Combined Environmental Hazards and Social Stressors and Applications to the Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Cohort

Tools for assessing multiple exposures across several domains (e.g., physical, chemical, and social) are of growing importance in social and environmental epidemiology because of their value in uncovering disparities and their impact on health outcomes. Here we describe work done within the Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO)-wide Cohort Study to build a combined exposure index. Our index considered both environmental hazards and social stressors simultaneously with national coverage for a 10-year period. Our goal was to build this index and demonstrate its utility for assessing differences in exposure for pregnancies enrolled in the ECHO-wide Cohort Study. Our unitless combined exposure index, which collapses census-tract level data into a single relative measure of exposure ranging from 0-1 (where higher values indicate higher exposure to hazards), includes indicators for major air pollutants and air toxics, features of the built environment, traffic exposures, and social determinants of health (e.g., lower educational attainment) drawn from existing data sources. We observed temporal and geographic variations in index values, with exposures being highest among participants living in the West and Northeast regions. Pregnant people who identified as Black or Hispanic (of any race) were at higher risk of living in a “high” exposure census tract (defined as an index value above 0.5) relative to those who identified as White or non-Hispanic. Index values were also higher for pregnant people with lower educational attainment. Several recommendations follow from our work, including that environmental and social stressor datasets with higher spatial and temporal resolutions are needed to ensure index-based tools fully capture the total environmental context.

Authors: Martenies, Sheena E;Cowell, Whitney;Program Collaborators for Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes,;et al.

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2023 Jul 10;20(14). Epub 2023-07-10.

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