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Key Action 4 : Environment and Health
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Children’s health and the environment

Children are a very precious and sensitive population group. Consequently, research related to children and the environment is a priority of Key Action 4 – Environment and Health, and will remain so in future Framework Programmes. In addition to the potential benefits to children themselves, it may be possible to reduce drastically some diseases of later life by limiting childhood exposure to environmental hazards Children’s health and the environment  :  picture
Case Studies

Childhood asthma and allergies

Linking maternal exposure to allergies

Allergic reactions indoors and out

Volume control

Children are not just 'little adults'. Because they crawl around, touching and tasting everything, young children are more exposed to pollutants present on or near the ground. They are growing rapidly and their nervous and immune systems are still developing, as is their metabolic capacity to deal with environmental toxins. They breathe more air, drink more water, and eat more food than adults relative to their body weight. They consume large quantities of some foods, such as milk, that are less prominent in the adult diet. Children are thus more exposed and more vulnerable than adults to many environmental hazards.

Health protection standards for exposure to pollutants are often based on data concerning adults. Despite the inclusion of 'safety margins' to protect more vulnerable groups, the specificity of children might not be sufficiently taken into account. KA4 hopes to help to remedy such problems by targeting children and their responses to various environmental hazards, thereby improving their quality of life.

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Case Studies

Childhood asthma and allergies

The PDCAAE projec(1) aims to see how the prevalence of childhood asthma and allergies varies across Europe and to assess possible links between observed variations and known or suspected risk factors. The project involves 15 study centres in 13 European countries, using standardised methods and a common protocol. Each centre is studying a community random sample of at least 200 children between nine and 11 years of age.

Partners are determining serum IgE levels ('allergy antibodies'), indoor exposure to allergens and endotoxins, and genetic markers of childhood asthma. The project will yield a pan-European database on the prevalence of childhood asthma and allergies. It will shed light on contributing environmental factors and their interaction with the genetic background.

PDCAAE is part of Phase II of a major worldwide study: the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC).

(1) Prevalence and determinants of childhood asthma and allergies across Europe: QLK4-1999-01288

Dr Stephan Weiland
Universität Münster (D)
weilans@nwz.uni-muenster.de

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Case Studies

Linking maternal exposure to allergies

The Plutocracy project(2) is examining the hypothesis that developing foetuses become sensitised to environmental pollutants as a result of maternal exposure, and that this leads to higher allergy levels in childhood.

The partners are measuring placental contamination with selected pollutants, such as heavy metals and organochlorines, as an indicator of maternal exposure, and correlating this with the development of allergic disease in childhood. They are looking for early markers of sensitisation during intrauterine development, and are studying the transport of selected pollutants through the placenta in laboratory models. The team is also examining how selected pollutants affect placental enzyme levels and immune function. Clinical examination and assessment of postnatal exposure will help to determine the relationship between risk factors and allergy development. The results should provide a basis for future allergy prevention.

(2) Placental Uptake and Transfer of Environmental Chemicals Relating to Allergy in Childhood Years: QLK4-2000-00286

Dr Margaret Saunders
University of Bristol Medical Physics Centre (UK)
M.Saunders@bristol.ac.uk

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Case Studies

Allergic reactions indoors and out

The Airallerg project(3) is focusing on four groups of four-year-olds with differing sensitisation/non-sensitisation to common allergens and with or without respiratory and allergic symptoms. The children were recruited at birth into cohort studies in their respective countries. Estimation of their exposure to components of indoor and outdoor air pollution began during their first year of life and is continuing with the help of data collected in this project.

Airallerg will yield information on links between allergies and exposure to outdoor air pollutants (diesel exhaust, nitrogen dioxide) and indoor air pollutants (dust mite and pet allergens, environmental tobacco smoke, mould and bacterial products, nitrogen dioxide and nitrous acid). One original element in the project is that it is seeking to identify interactions between different types of exposure – in some cases early exposure of one type might enhance the effect of another, while in others some degree of protection might be conferred.

(3) Effects of outdoor and indoor air pollution on the development of allergic disease in children: QLK4-2000-00073.

Prof. Bert Brunekreef
Utrecht University (NL)
B.Brunekreef@iras.uu.nl

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Case Studies

Volume control

The objective of the Ranch project4 is to compare how children and adults perceive and respond to their 'soundscapes', and to examine how noise levels affect the health and cognitive function of children. The emphasis is on road and aircraft noise, and the project is focusing on children at school being exposed to a wide range of noise levels.

The project hopes to yield:

  • a health evaluation model for children;
  • a test battery for child cognitive function;
  • exposure-effect relationships for noise and health, cognitive function, sleep and psychological restoration;
  • psycho-acoustical models for 24-hour noise exposure; and
  • policy recommendations based on a pan-European database, applicable to the proposed Framework Directive on the Assessment and Management of Environmental noise.
(4) Road Traffic and Aircraft Noise Exposure and Children's Cognition and Health: Exposure-Effect Relationships and Combined Effects: QLK4-2000-00197.

Prof. Stephen Stansfeld
Queen Mary and Westfield College, London (UK)
S.A.Stansfeld@qmw.ac.uk

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