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From Society to Cell: Exploring the Social Exposome to Reduce Inequalities in Child Health and Development in Canada

In UNICEF’s recent Report Card that assessed child well-being, Canada ranked only 30 out of 38 high income countries. Despite being the 5th most prosperous country in the world, Canada’s rankings were alarmingly low on key measures of children’s health and safety, as well as child poverty (17% of all children). These conditions have resulted in large and growing inequities in the development and health of Canadian children.

The primary objective of this interdisciplinary research project is to examine the social and environmental factors (and interactions amongst factors) that are associated with these disparities, and the “biological embedding” involved, by exploring the social exposome. The social exposome refers to the cumulative social exposures over the life-course that influence development and health from conception onward. Using a "Society to Cell" approach, we are exploring how, when, and under what circumstances early life social and environmental factors become biologically embedded to affect child health and development.

To do this, we are linking population-level data resources with biological measures to understand child development and health. Specifically, we will build on an existing British Columbia population-level monitoring system on child development (based on Kindergarten teacher-report data), which has been linked to birth, medical, and education records as well as neighborhood socio-demographic characteristics (via Population Data BC). We will link individual child health, environmental exposures, and biological measures—including the epigenome— from the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) study to this database.

This project will provide evidence to explain some of the factors that are associated with disparities in health and development among Canadians, evidence that can be used to devise policies and interventions to address them. This research is funded by a New Frontiers in Research Fund Exploration grant to the Lead PI, Dr. Anne Gadermann.