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How lifestyle factors and pollution may affect child and future health

The exposome combines all environmental hazards that mothers and children are exposed to

Tuesday, June 2th, 2015

How lifestyle factors and pollution may affect child and future health

Children and pregnant women are contributing to the large Europe-wide HELIX project to build an early-life “exposome” for studying many environmental influences on health, focusing on obesity, asthma and neurodevelopment.

Pregnancy and the early years of life are well recognized to be periods of high susceptibility to environmental damage with lifetime consequences. To understand the level of impact of multiple environmental hazards, the HELIX project will build an early life exposome. Martine Vrijheid, from the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology (CREAL), an ISGlobal allied center, and coordinator of HELIX, says: “Better understanding of environmental hazards in early life can provide very effective tools for disease prevention, given that interventions at that time can reshape biological programming and shift the body’s developmental track to the normal function”. She adds: “The results of the project will help us to better understand how various types of exposures combine to influence our risk of disease”.


More than 1200 children and mothers from Spain, Norway, Greece, Lithuania, England and France have now completed an extensive study as part of the €8.6M European HELIX research project, carrying around personal exposure measurement backpacks to assess air pollution inhaled during the journey to school, UV radiation, noise, and physical activity through smartphone software. Their homes have been tested for levels of indoor pollutants like nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and other compounds (BTEX), which are thought to affect lung function and the central nervous system. Also, they have provided blood and urine samples and clinical examinations. ”Collecting Exposome data is very intensive for the participants”, explains Vrijheid, “but this is the only way we will achieve a more complete picture of many environmental risks”.

Building the exposome

Laboratories in Spain, Norway and United Kingdom have started the challenging task of analysing the blood and urine samples for DNA methylation, RNA, proteins, metabolites, pesticides, plasticizers and metals, amongst others. With these results, HELIX researchers will be able to put together the “exposome”, combining all environmental hazards that mothers and children are exposed to, and linking this to the health of children, now and in future life. HELIX will create a database with full exposome data for the 1200 mothers and their children, the largest study to do this.

HELIX, in the World Environment Day

The completion of the data collection part of HELIX coincides with World Environment Day which celebrates "Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care." To mark this occasion, Green Week 2015 celebrates in Brussels (2-5 June) “Nature – our health, our wealth”, the largest conference on the European environment policy, which recognizes that natural diversity contributes to our quality of life. The presence of green space, in particular in urban areas, has been shown to have a positive effect on human physical and mental well-being, reducing for example obesity and stress levels.

Additional information:

HELIX means “The Human Early-Life Exposome – novel tools for integrating early-life environmental exposures and child health across Europe”. HELIX involves 13 partners from eight European countries, including two SME’s and six birth cohort studies from Spain (INMA), Norway (MoBa), Greece (Rhea), Lithuania (KANC), the United Kingdom (BiB), and France (EDEN), from which mothers and children participate. 

Twitter:  @HELIXexposome


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