New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF): Exploration
Award year:
Nominated PI:
Gadermann, Anne
The University of British Columbia
Application Title:
From Society to Cell: Exploring the Social Exposome to Reduce Inequalities in Child Health and Development in Canada
Amount Awarded:
DeLongis, Anita; Janus, Magdalena; Kobor, Michael; Schonert-Reichl, Kimberly; van Jaarsveld, Danielle

Research summary

The Challenge: In UNICEF’s recent international Report Card on child well-being, Canada ranked only 25 out of 41 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 as well as child poverty (17% of all children). These conditions have resulted in large and growing inequalities in the health and development of Canadian children.

Objective: The primary objective of our inter-disciplinary research program is to examine the social and environmental factors (and interactions amongst factors) associated with current child health disparities. We will focus on understanding the social conditions involved in “biological embedding”, by exploring the social exposome, which represents the cumulative social exposures over the life-course that influence development and health from conception onward. Specifically, we will explore how, when, and under what circumstances early life social and environmental factors become “biologically embedded” to affect neural, endocrine, and immune systems at the molecular level.

Research approach: We adopt a “society to cell” approach by exploring how children’s social environments influence their physical and psychological exposures to impact their health and development and lead to the persistent health disparities in our society. Specifically, we will link population-based data resources with biological measures to understand child development. To do this, we will build on an existing British Columbia population-level monitoring system on child development (based on teacher- and student self-report), which has been linked to birth, medical, and education records as well as family and neighborhood socio-demographic characteristics (via Population Data BC). We will link individual child health and biological measures from the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) Study, which has extensive measures of pre- and postnatal environments and key biological markers, to this database.

Novelty and expected significance: This program of research is a vanguard for testing the feasibility of population-wide social exposome research and will move the promising concept of biological embedding from smaller cohort studies into a true population setting. The linkage between population and molecular data will provide an unparalleled ecosystem for understanding child development at the nexus of nature and nurture.