Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Health Scientist.
Earlier this month Dr. David Bellinger at Boston Children’s Hospital published a very interesting paper in Environmental Health Perspectives offering a new way to consider the importance of various risk factors for child neurodevelopment—such as pre-existing medical conditions, poor nutritional status or harmful chemical exposures—at the population level. “A Strategy for Comparing the Contributions of Environmental Chemicals and Other Risk Factors to Neurodevelopment of Children” argues that, in evaluating the contribution of a risk factor to a health outcome, it is critical to consider not only the magnitude of its effect on the health outcome, but also the prevalence of that risk factor in the population.
Dr. Bellinger argues: “Although a factor associated with a large impact would be a significant burden to a patient, it might not be a major contributor to the population if it occurs rarely. Conversely, a factor associated with a modest but frequently occurring impact could contribute significantly to population burden.” The former “disease-oriented” approach has generally been used to estimate the burden of harmful chemical exposures to population health, rather than the latter “population-oriented” approach. Relying solely on the former approach, he contends, may result in an underestimation of the impact of a chemical exposure or other risk factor on public health. Read More