Seoul National University Hospital (SNUH) said a team at its Institute of Environmental Medicine, Medical Research Center, is conducting a birth cohort study on environmental influence on people from fetal to adolescence period.
Its purpose is to identify precisely the effects and harmful effects of various environmentally hazardous substances.
There have been constant debates on the health effects of environmentally harmful substances such as ultrafine dust, disposable paper cups, and frying pan coatings, the institute said. Environmental harmful substances appear in many forms, such as ecological hormones, heavy metals, fine dust, and electromagnetic waves, and they are a severe problem as the materials have a close and continuous effect on daily life, it added.
The research team, led by Professor Hong Yoon-chul of the Department of Preventive Medicine, will periodically monitor the effects of environmentally harmful substances on growth and development, neurocognitive development, sociality and emotional development.
The subjects of this study are about 70,000 children of women, who were and will be pregnant between 2015 and 2019. The team plans to divide the subjects into two groups and conduct a follow-up study until 2036 when they turn 18 years of age. Although there have been some studies on birth cohorts in Korea, the size is small which makes it hard to find an apparent effect of environmentally harmful substances.
“Environmental health experts say that a large cohort of about 100,000 people is needed to identify the complex impacts of environmental hazards on health,” the hospital said. The team plans to provide a healthcare guideline for each stage of growth based on this long-term cohort study, it added.
“The research will be a long-term, systematic analysis of the effects of environmentally harmful substances on domestic child growth, emotion, behavior, and intelligence,” Professor Hong said. “Through this research, we hope to come up with effective preventive measures for people who are sensitive to environmental exposure.”
In addition to this birth cohort study, it is necessary to continue discussions on the national policy level for the management of environmental chemicals and health impact assessment, Hong added.