Illuminating the Exposome

Faculty members Janet Yang (communications), Sharmistha Baghchi-Sen (geography), and Kasia Kordas (epidemiology) at the Air Quality Ideas Lab.

Faculty members Janet Yang (communications), Sharmistha Baghchi-Sen (geography), and Kasia Kordas (epidemiology) at the Air Quality Ideas Lab

The leading environmental health hazard is air pollution. While this and other toxins in food and the environment have proven especially threatening in the first 1,000 days of life, little is known about the cumulative, life-course effects on physical and mental health. To illuminate the “exposome” – the totality of cultural, nutritional, and environmental exposures – we investigate intersections between biomarkers and geo-markers, daily routines and family histories, prenatal care and life-long habits.

What is Special About Early Life?

Children are very vulnerable during their first 1,000 days of life.  In the womb, embryonic or fetal tissue is highly sensitive and organs are developing. After birth, a young child goes through rapid growth and development with changes in organ system functioning, metabolic capacities, physical size, and immature defense systems. It is during this time period that they are particularly vulnerable to environmental exposure.

What is the Exposome?

The exposome is the sum exposure, the totality of environmental exposures from conception onwards. The exposome includes exposure to air pollution, water pollution, metal pollution, the social environment, life style factors, and others. The totality of these exposures at a young age can affect fetus growth, birth outcomes, child development and child health. 

For example, 3 billion people use solid fuels everyday, exposing women and young children to high levels of indoor air pollution. The World Health Organization estimates that people most likely to breathe poor-quality air live in low- and middle-income countries, where they may also experience hunger, malnutrition, infectious disease, conflict, and natural disasters. In many of these areas, the problem of air pollution is intractable, even as consequences for young children and other vulnerable groups are acknowledged.  

Poor air quality has detrimental effects on fetal and postnatal growth and development. Despite decades of efforts to improve air quality, pregnant women and young children around the world still breathe polluted air, initiating lifelong health problems and causing early death. For many, inadequate air quality is inescapable, with exposure occurring consistently during everyday indoor and outdoor tasks.

Portrait of Gauri Desai.

Meet Gauri Desai: Recent Doctoral Graduate and CGHE Alumna who recently won the Saxon Graham Dissertation Award

Our Working Solutions

Air Quality Ideas Lab.
Identifying Needs Testing Options Scaling Up
  • Multi-Scalar Analysis of Household Fuel Transitions: Developing an Evidence-based Framework
    Household air pollution causes nearly four million premature deaths per year, primarily among poor women and children in low- and middle-income countries (Rosenthal et al., 2017Lim et al. 2012). Transitions away from solid fuels improve indoor air quality, directly benefiting the health of women and children in the first two years of life. It remains unclear how to catalyze widespread and sustained fuel transitions, despite countless fuel transition case studies at the local level. This proposal will use mixed methods to identify enabling environments for household fuel transitions by examining both successful and unsuccessful transition attempts.

Our Team

Our work is done in collaboration with many talented community partners. We list these partners on the affiliated project pages.