Current Environmental Health Reports

Allison A. Appleton*, Elizabeth A. Holdsworth, Laura D. Kubzansky


Purpose of review: Early-life social and environmental exposures have independent effects on many child health outcomes. Increasingly, investigators have suggested that these exposures, which commonly co-occur, may have synergistic effects and have thus begun to evaluate if environmental and social factors jointly contribute to child health. This systematic review summarizes findings and methodological approaches across studies examining the interplay between environmental and social exposures in relation to commonly assessed childhood health outcomes: asthma, cognition and behavior, perinatal outcomes, and obesity.

Recent findings: Forty-one studies met the search criteria and were reviewed. Of these, 37, 34, and 29 % of studies focused on asthma, cognition/behavior, and perinatal outcomes, respectively. No study focused on obesity. Across all studies reviewed, 72 % observed significant synergistic associations between social and environmental exposures. Air pollution was the most frequently studied environmental exposure, and socioeconomic status was the most commonly studied social factor.

Summary: The emerging evidence suggests that social and environmental risks may jointly affect child health. Recommendations for future research are discussed, including enhancing characterization of the social environment and broadening the types of environmental risks assessed.

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* Denotes CSDA Associates and Staff