Environmental exposures during pregnancy and early life may have adverse health effects. Single birth cohort studies often lack statistical power to tease out such effects reliably. To improve the use of existing data and to facilitate collaboration among these studies, an inventory of the environmental exposure and health data in these studies was made as part of the ENRIECO (Environmental Health Risks in European Birth Cohorts) project. The focus with regard to exposure was on outdoor air pollution, water contamination, allergens and biological organisms, metals, pesticides, smoking and second hand tobacco smoke (SHS), persistent organic pollutants (POPs), noise, radiation, and occupational exposures. The review lists methods and data on environmental exposures in 37 European birth cohort studies. Most data is currently available for smoking and SHS (N=37 cohorts), occupational exposures (N=33), outdoor air pollution, and allergens and microbial agents (N=27). Exposure modeling is increasingly used for long-term air pollution exposure assessment; biomonitoring is used for assessment of exposure to metals, POPs and other chemicals; and environmental monitoring for house dust mite exposure assessment. Collaborative analyses with data from several birth cohorts have already been performed successfully for outdoor air pollution, water contamination, allergens, biological contaminants, molds, POPs and SHS. Key success factors for collaborative analyses are common definitions of main exposure and health variables. Our review emphasizes that such common definitions need ideally be arrived at in the study design phase. However, careful comparison of methods used in existing studies also offers excellent opportunities for collaborative analyses. Investigators can use this review to evaluate the potential for future collaborative analyses with respect to data availability and methods used in the different cohorts and to identify potential partners for a specific research question.
Environmental Health: a Global Access Science Source, 2013, Vol 12, Issue 1