Subpopulations at increased risk of adverse health outcomes from air pollution.
ABSTRACT Epidemiological research to identify subpopulations with enhanced susceptibility to air pollution is still at an early stage. From the available studies, there is evidence that both "endogenous" and "exogenous" factors contribute to individual susceptibility. Females and the elderly are at an increased risk of pollution-related diseases. Moreover, some chronic clinical conditions seem to be good candidates for identifying the "frail" populations: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease including asthma, coronary heart diseases, congestive heart failure, and heart rhythm disorders. It seems clear that epidemiological research on susceptibility in the future should investigate the underlying biological and physiological mechanisms, in addition to the environmental and toxicological effects.
The American review of respiratory disease 07/1993; 147(6 Pt 1):1334-5. · 10.19 Impact Factor
[show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: The air pollution disasters in London in 1952, the Meuse valley in 1930, and in Donoroa, Pennsylvania, in 1948 made it clear that extremely high levels of particulate-based smog could produce large increases in the daily mortality rate. Recent studies of fluctuations in daily air pollution and daily mortality have reported associations at much lower concentrations in London during the 1960s and in Philadelphia, Steubenville, Santa Clara, St. Louis, Utah valley, Detroit, and eastern Tennessee in the 1970s and 1980s. Whether these associations are causal or not is a matter of considerable public health concern. If the detailed pattern of the deaths at these lower concentrations appeared similar to the pattern in London, this would strengthen the argument for causality. To examine this issue, the death certificates from Philadelphia were examined on the 5% of the days with the highest particulate air pollution and the 5% of the days with the lowest particulate air pollution during the years 1973-1980. There was little difference in weather between the high and low pollution days, but total suspended particulate matter concentrations averaged 141 micrograms/m3 on the high pollution days versus 47 micrograms/m3 on the low pollution days. The relative risk of dying on the high pollution days was 1.08 P < 0.0001. The relative increase was higher for COPD (1.25) and pneumonia (1.13). Deaths were also elevated for heart disease and stroke; however, there was a substantial increase in the reports of respiratory factors as contributing causes for those underlying causes of death. Dead-on-arrival deaths and deaths outside of hospitals and clinics were also disproportionately increased. This paralleled the pattern seen in London in 1952. The age pattern of the relative risk of death was also similar. This adds to the evidence that the association is causal.Environmental Research 02/1994; 64(1):26-35. · 3.40 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: Air pollutants have been documented to be associated with a wide variety of adverse health impacts in children. These include increases in mortality in very severe episodes; an increased risk of perineonatal mortality in regions of higher pollution, and an increased general rate of mortality in children; increased acute respiratory disease morbidity; aggravation of asthma, as shown by increased hospital emergency visits or admissions as well as in longitudinal panel studies; increased prevalence of respiratory symptoms in children, and infectious episodes of longer duration; lowered lung function in children when pollutants increase; lowered lung function in more polluted regions; increased sickness rates as indicated by kindergarten and school absences; the adverse effects of inhaled lead from automobile exhaust. These impacts are especially severe when high levels of outdoor pollution (usually from uncontrolled coal burning) are combined with high levels of indoor pollution. In developed countries, where indoor pollution levels are lower, increasing traffic density and elevated NO2 levels with secondary photochemical and fine particulate pollution appear to be the main contemporary problem. By virtue of physical activity out of doors when pollution levels may be high, children may experience higher exposures than adults. Air pollution is likely to have a greater impact on asthmatic children if they are without access to routine medical care.Environmental Health Perspectives 10/1995; 103 Suppl 6:49-53. · 7.04 Impact Factor
Subpopulations at increased risk of adverse health outcomes
from air pollution
I. Annesi-Maesano*, N. Agabiti#, R. Pistelli}, M-F. Couilliot*,z, F. Forastiere#
Subpopulations at increased risk of adverse health outcomes from air pollution.
I. Annesi-Maesano, N. Agabiti, R. Pistelli, M-F. Couilliot, F. Forastiere. #ERS
Journals Ltd 2003.
ABSTRACT: Epidemiological research to identify subpopulations with enhanced
susceptibility to air pollution is still at an early stage.
From the available studies, there is evidence that both "endogenous" and "exogenous"
factors contribute to individual susceptibility. Females and the elderly are at an
increased risk of pollution-related diseases. Moreover, some chronic clinical conditions
seem to be good candidates for identifying the "frail" populations: chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease including asthma, coronary heart diseases, congestive heart failure,
and heart rhythm disorders.
It seems clear that epidemiological research on susceptibility in the future should
investigate the underlying biological and physiological mechanisms, in addition to the
environmental and toxicological effects.
Eur Respir J 2003; 21: Suppl. 40, 57s–63s.
*Dept of Epidemiology of Immediate Hyper-
sensitivity, INSERM U472: Epidemiology and
Biostatistics, Villejuif, France,#Dept of Epide-
miology ASL RME, Lazio Region, Rome,
University, Rome, Italy,
Health, Schoolof Medicine Paris XIII, Bobigny,
}Dept of Clinical Medicine, Catholic
zDept of Public
Correspondence: I. Annesi-Maesano, Dept of
Epidemiology of Immediate Hypersensitivity,
16, Ave PV-Couturier, F94807 Villejuif, France.
Fax: 33 145595169
tory diseases, sex, susceptibility
Received and accepted: April 12 2002
There is increasing evidence that the effect of air toxicants
varies from one individual to another because of the variation
in the susceptibility level, i.e. the degree of vulnerability,
frailty or sensitivity of the individual to exposures, stimuli,
and influences. Susceptibility results from the complex inter-
relationships of various mechanisms. It has been suggested
that those who suffer more from exposure to air pollution
levels are likely to be individuals, mainly females and/or
elderly people, already at risk because of serious cardio-
vascular or pulmonary diseases [1, 2]. Few studies, however,
have addressed the question of which specific subpopulations
are most sensitive to air pollutants.
In the present paper, the authors will disentangle the
complex mechanisms underlying individual susceptibility by
investigating the features that predispose individuals to having
seems necessary to better comprehend the phenomenon of
individual susceptibility. The paper will briefly present the
epidemiological evidence regarding the link between air pollu-
3) various other characteristics on which specific hypotheses
have been raised. This link will be discussed in the light of the
suggested potential biological and physiological mechanisms
attention to those factors acting on individual susceptibility.
Epidemiological studies on susceptibility to air pollution
The issue of sensitivity to air pollution in epidemiological
terms is a matter of effect modification; the level of response
of a particular individual to a given level of air pollution,
and his/her risk of morbidity or mortality are a function of
biological, clinical and social factors (fig. 1). The search for
such factors is obviously a research priority, but so far, only a
few steps have been undertaken. Appropriate designs are
needed to investigate susceptibility. The available time series
studies on the acute health effects of air pollution cannot
provide detailed descriptions of the populations affected,
chiefly because they use routinely collected data (death certifi-
cates or hospital admissions). In a time series analysis, the
clinical conditions, circumstances and characteristics of those
affected (e.g. biological and physiological parameters) are
usually not studied. Similarly, studies on long-term effects of
air pollution considering individual susceptibility have been
scanty so far. Some recent investigations, however, have used
novel study designs and/or new approaches to evaluate short-
term as well as long-term effects of air pollution among
specific population subgroups.
Sex and "gender"
Epidemiological data have shown that there are sex/
"gender" differences in the susceptibility to the action of air
pollution. The effects seem to vary according to the type of
pollutant in both children and adults. Young females are
at higher risk than young males for an increased rate of
respiratory symptoms, a diminished level of lung function and
a greater asthma medication use due to air pollution (table 1).
Furthermore, young female asthmatics have a higher risk of
air pollution effects than young female nonasthmatics. All
major pollutants are involved (table 1). However, only one
study had a longitudinal design with the assessment of
Females also generally have a greater risk compared to
males, although some studies did not find sex differences
(table 2). Many studies, however, did not consider sex
Eur Respir J 2003; 21: Suppl. 40, 57s–63s
Printed in UK – all rights reserved
Copyright#ERS Journals Ltd 2003
European Respiratory Journal
differences to a great extent. The three large cohort studies on
long-term effects of air pollution, conducted in the USA, have
examined the relationship between various particle indicators
and mortality. Due to the prospective design, these studies are
the most appropriate to investigate the causal relationship.
There was no significant difference between males and females
Cancer Society (ACS) study  and in the Seventh-day
Aventists Health Study on Smog (AHSMOG) . However,
males had a higher risk of respiratory cancer in the AHSMOG
study and females of cardiopulmonary diseases in the ACS
Thus, available data have been based only on the compar-
ison between males and females, which is reductive. More
sophisticated designs are needed to study the differences
between females and males. Objective assessments of biolog-
ical (e.g. hormones, enzymes markers of inflammation) and
physiological (e.g. lung function, bronchial hyperresponsive-
ness) parameters should be included. Furthermore, objective
assessments of individual exposure to and internal dose of air
pollution, which have rarely been performed so far, have to be
Mechanisms. Differences in the susceptibility to air pollution
observed between females and males are the result of the
interaction of sex (genetic and biological) and "gender"
There are recognised sex differences in organ growth and
development as well as in the maturation of the immune
system. Females have smaller lung and airways calibre, a
higher level of bronchial hyperresponsiveness, but suffer less
than males from childhood respiratory infections. The heart
of a female, relative to her body size, is also smaller (about
two-thirds) and typically pulses at a higher rate than a male9s.
Sex differences generated by genetic and biological factors are
responsible, through the production of hormones and enzymes,
for the physiological variations observed between females and
males. Unfortunately, the role of genetic factors has not yet
However, an interest in the sex hormones has begun in this
Fig. 1.–Potential risk factors for individual susceptibility to pollution-
related diseases. SES: socioeconomic status; CVD: cardiovascular
Table 1.–Effects of air pollution according to sex/"gender" in children
Sex differences (female children
at higher risk than male children)
SO2, NO2, PM10
NO2, PM2.5, O3
Yes (in asthmatics)
Yes (in asthmatics)
1567 (7–11 yrs)
Respiratory symptoms and
Yes for symptoms
21367 (5–17 yrs)
Yes for lung function cross-sectionally
Yes for symptoms longitudinally
Outdoor CO and NOx
106 children with traffic,
185 without (0–15 yrs)
Outdoor (model) NO2
Wheeze and asthma medication
Truck traffic and black smoke
Respiratory symptoms and lung
195 cases, 350 controls
(4 months–4 yrs)
SO2: sulphur dioxide; NO2: nitrogen dioxide; PM10: particles with a 50% cut-off aerodynamic diameter ofv10 mm; PM2.5: particles with a 50% cut-off aerodynamic diameter of
v2.5 mm; O3: ozone; ETS: environmental tobacco smoke; TSP: total suspended particles; CO: carbon monoxide; NOx: nitrogen oxides.
I. ANNESI-MAESANO ET AL.
last decade, although there are still few population-based data.
The most compelling evidence that sex hormones are involved
emerges from natural models, i.e. menarche, menstrual cycle,
contraception, pregnancy and menopause. In these models,
clinical and functional variations can be measured in parallel
oestrogen has a beneficial impact, which extends beyond sex
and reproduction to virtually every part of a female9s body
(e.g. strengthening bones, fostering the growth of brain cells,
blocking platelets that can clog arteries, altering insulin meta-
bolism), it may contribute to a host of medical problems.
Oestrogen might act on both the lung/airways and heart.
Oestrogen is likely to exert an effect on the constriction of
bronchial smooth muscle. Thus, oestrogen may contribute to
the rise of asthma incidence in females in adolescence.
Fluctuations in oestrogen during the menstrual cycle may
also cause flare-ups in asthma. In the late luteal or premen-
strual phase (the 6 days before menstrual bleeding begins),
when the corpus luteum disintegrates and oestrogen and
progesterone levels begin to fall, some women may experience
asthma . The effect of the contraceptive pill on the lung
can only be hypothesised, but clinical and functional improve-
ment of asthma has been observed after normalisation of the
hormonal profile in females.
Regarding pregnancy, it is known that this depends on
the type of asthma phenotype. In most asthmatic females,
pregnancy is characterised by amelioration of both clinical
and functional indices of asthma. Furthermore, asthma attacks
in the last period of the pregnancy and during labour are rare
in these same females. This might be due to an increased
production of progesterone and cortisol, which may exert a
protective effect. However, females with severe asthma may
present severe exacerbation of the disease, which has not yet
Finally, it has been shown that menopause can increase
either the risk of asthma or the severity of pre-existing asthma
in predisposed females. This might be due to an excess of
estradiol in these predisposed females, which can enhance
both the formation of prostaglandin and arachidonic acid
metabolism implicated in asthma inflammation. Furthermore,
duringmenopause, abnormally high levelsofoestrogen, because
of replacement therapy, can increase the risk of asthma ,
whereas physiologically low levels of oestrogens may have
Abundant knowledge also exists in the case of the cardio-
vascular system. It is well known that, throughout thereproduc-
tive years, oestrogen prevents the build-up of atherosclerotic
plaque in the arteries, boosts levels of the beneficial form
of cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein (HDL)) and lowers
heart-harming low-density lipoprotein (LDL), thus protecting
females from cardiovascular disease (CVD). However, oral
contraceptives, even those with lower oestrogen, raise LDL
and lower HDL, which increases CVD risk. As their oestrogen
levels fall at midlife, the risk of CVD rises for all females. Like
oral contraceptives, the menopause brings a rise in LDL and a
small decline in HDL. This explains why the annual risk of
CVD is reduced foreveryyeara female continues menstruating.
Unfortunately, in spite of the incipient research on sexual
differences in the development of diseases having raised
hypotheses on the implicated mechanisms, the precise role
played by air pollution on these mechanisms has not yet been
"Gender" is responsible for differences in environmental
exposures, which may be crucial in the case of air pollution.
Due to sociocultural factors, personal habits and exposure
vary between females and males throughout the world .
Because of differences in activities, occupational and domestic
exposures differ between females and males. Females are more
exposed than males to some hazards (e.g. nitrogen dioxide
Table 2.–Effects of air pollution according to sex/"gender" in adults
First author [ref no.]
Sex differences (females
at higher risk)
3192 participants (25–39 yrs) exposed to
low pollution 2369 exposed to high
Respiratory symptoms, lung function
15000 (20–44 yrs)
Respiratory symptoms, lung function
6000 (w65 yrs)
National statistics (adulthood)
PM10, O3, CO, SO2
CO, NO2, VOC
1075 never smoker adults
Smokers with mild-to-moderate airflow
673 adults with traffic, 812 adults without
Wheeze and medication for respiration
6000 nonsmoking Seventh-day Adventists
552138 adults living in metropolitan areas
6338 nonsmoking Seventh-day Adventists
Only all-causes mortality
NO2: nitrogen dioxide; SO2: sulphur dioxide; PM10 and PM2.5: particles with a 50% cut-off aerodynamic diameter ofv10 mm andv2.5 mm respectively; O3: ozone; CO: carbon
monoxide; VOC: volatile organic compounds; ETS: environmental tobacco smoke; TSP: total suspended particles; BS: black smoke; RR: relative risk;#: for cardiopulmonary
desease (females: 1.45 (1.20–1.78) (RR (95% confidence interval) versus males: 1.24 (1.08–1.41)) but not for all the rest;}: for all causes and cardiopulmonary mortality, but males at
higher risk of dying from cancer;§: for malignant neoplasms (TSP).
AIR POLLUTION AND SUSCEPTIBLE SUBPOPULATIONS
 and biomass smoke  due to cooking, passive smoking
at home, hygiene/cosmetic products, indoor exposures, cleaning).
Similarly, "gender" differences exist in diet, which can have
repercussions on obesity, related to both asthma and CVD.
However, there are also "gender" differences in perception,
reporting and interpretation of risk and health outcomes .
It is not yet clear, for instance, whether the asthma exacerba-
tions occurring in many females during the premenstrual
period are due to objectively measurable intensification of the
disease or to the increased perception of symptoms caused by
the particular psychological state before menstruation .
Regarding health outcomes, there is also a difference between
females and males in their management (e.g. diagnosis, treat-
ment, emergency room visits). According to an analysis in the
USA [30, 31], females were less likely than males to get clot-
dissolving drugs, to limit the damage of a heart attack, or to
receive standard medication like aspirin or beta-blockers.
This "gender" gap in treatment may be one reason why the
death rate for CVD has declined only for males. Similar
patterns have been seen in respiratory health.
Differences due to the interactions between sex and "gender"
can also exist, but they are difficult to study . They concern
factors such as, childhood exposures, active smoking, nutri-
tion and diet, exercise, occupational exposure, and air pollution
exposure. For instance, diet, tobacco and alcohol consump-
tion differ between females and males, not only because of
sociocultural factors, and thus of exposure, but also because
of differences in biological resistance.
An example of the complex interactions between sex and
"gender" is provided in table 3. Subgroup analysis in a based-
population sample of 3,941 adolescents living in a semirural
zone of France showed that undiagnosed exercise-induced
asthma, as defined by a report of exercise-induced wheezing
attacks in the past year in the absence of a physician9s
diagnosis of asthma (42 out of the 259 with exercise-induced
asthma), was independently associated with being a young
female, after controlling for potential confounders (table 3).
This depends on sexual factors. Compared to young males,
young females have a smaller airway calibre in absolute terms
(forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1)), but a
higher ratio of airway calibre to lung volume (FEV1/vital
capacity), which is partly responsible for their higher level of
bronchial hyperresponsiveness. Also, "gender" factors influ-
ence the environmental exposures of young females as well as
the way they have their diseases managed, fill in the question-
naires, and possibly practice sport.
Perspectives. Since information on the differences between
females and males has been derived by studies as the result of a
secondaryanalysis, furtherresearch onthedifferences between
males and females could be improved by the following: 1)
stratification rather than adjustment on sex in the analysis of
the collected data; 2) taking into account comparable exposure
between males and females; and 3) promoting the study of the
biological differences between males and females overall when
exposed to external aggressions like air pollution. A meta-
analysis of existing data will be useful in this context.
Various chronic clinical conditions seem to be the best
candidates to trace the true "frail" populations susceptible to
the effects of air pollution: chronic obstructive pulmonary
disease (COPD) including asthma, coronary heart diseases,
heart failure, and disorders of the heart rhythm. There is
obviously an extreme overlap between these conditions and,
especially in the elderly; they all appear in combination as
frequent causes of comorbidity.
conferring susceptibility to the acute role of air pollution. By
using a case-crossover analysis to evaluate mortality in a
cohort of patients with COPD, these authors found that older
females, patients admitted to intensive care units, and patients
with a higher rate of emergency room visits were at greater
risk of dying, in association with black smoke.
ZANOBETTI et al.  examined whether hospital admis-
sions or secondary diagnoses for heart disease, COPD and
pneumonia between 1985–1994 predisposed persons to a greater
risk from air pollution. People with asthma, acute respiratory
infections, and defects in the electrical control of the heart,
conductive heart disorders or dysrhythmias emerged as risk
groups for particulate matter effects, in terms of hospital
Using individual information on decedents of the Quebec
Health Insurance Plan database (billing records on medical
services, diagnoses coded by physicians, drug prescriptions),
GOLDBERG et al.  found that daily mortality increased
twice, as result of particle pollution among persons who had
had acute lower respiratory diseases, chronic coronary artery
diseases (especially acute lower respiratory diseases and
congestive heart failure) compared to the others.
However, LEVY et al.  did not find an association
between daily indicators of particulate matter and out-of
hospital primary cardiac arrest in Seattle, WA, USA with an
analysis of effect modification using a case-crossover. The
choice of the sudden deaths series of people with no previous
history of CVDs was a limitation of the study.
Time series analyses as well as a case-crossover approach
were employed by KWON et al.  to specifically test the
hypothesis that patients with congestive heart failure are more
susceptible to air pollution than the general population. This
was done by comparing the air pollution related to mortality
among the heart failure cohort members with that of the
general population in the same area and the same period. The
effects attributable to particles with a 50% cut-off aerody-
namic diameter of 10 mm (PM10) among the diseased cohort
appeared larger than among the general population (5.8%
versus 1.4% increase per 42.1 mg?m-3PM10).
Table 3.–Reported undiagnosed exercise-induced asthma
(UEIA) according to sex/"gender" among 3,941 adolescents
living in France (International Study of Asthma and Allergies
in Childhood (ISAAC) Phase I – West Marne)
Factors UEIA OR (95% CI)#
Positively related %
Owning a pet
Moulds at home
Negatively related %
Personal history of allergy
The sample included 52.2% of female adolescents. OR: odds
ratio; CI: confidence interval.
model taking all factors simultaneously into account. **:
pv0.01; ***: pv0.001.
#: using the logistic regression
I. ANNESI-MAESANO ET AL.
Acute exacerbations are the most common cause of hospital
admissions for COPD. Severe infection-induced exacerba-
tions are associated with a high risk of death up to 40–60% in
the following year. The long-term prognostic factors of the
patients are related not only to the respiratory parameters
(oxygen tension in arterial blood, carbon dioxide tension in
arterial blood; forced vital capacity, FEV1) as well as to the
onset of respiratory failure, but also to the cardiac status.
Electrocardiogram (ECG) signs of right ventricular hyper-
trophia (chronic cor pulmonale) and ECG signs of ischaemia
were strong predictors of mortality among COPD patients
studied in Rome . On the other hand, a depressed left
ventricular diastolic performance is a predictive factor for
severe arrhythmias during respiratory failure from COPD.
Both myocardial infarction (MI) and ischaemic stroke are
the results of sudden and persistent interruption of regional
blood flow from thrombosis, spasm, or small-vessel constric-
tion. Patients hospitalised after a MI are extremely frail and
at risk of subsequent death; an overall 30-day mortality rate of
y14–15% and a 1-yr mortality rate of 22–24% have been
observed in a population . Moreover, such patients are at
a high risk of a subsequent MI or hospital re-admission for
angina, cardiac failure, cardiac dysrhythmia, and stroke.
Chronic heart failure is a clinical syndrome mainly due to
left-ventricular systolic dysfunction associated with a failure
of the heart to pump blood at a rate suitable with the demand.
Frequent causes of myocardial failure, which has a relatively
high prevalence in the general population, especially among
the elderly (5–10% for thosew65 yrs)  and with mortality
reaching50–75%within5 yrsofthediagnosis, arecoronary
ischaemia and valvular diseases. Several factors of the parti-
cular susceptibility of patients with heart failure (e.g. infections,
hypertension, MI, pulmonary embolism) may precipitate their
conditions to death.
Perspectives. The innovative pilot study of PETERS et al. 
on the role of air pollution among patients with implanted
defibrillators has attracted attention to patients with severe
heart rhythm disorders. In fact, all conditions (disorders of
sinus node function, atrioventricular conduction disturbances
(heart blocks), tachycardias) are sensitive to variation of the
autonomic tone, a postulated target of the effects of air pollu-
tion. Atrial fibrillation affects a large proportion of elderly
people (2.3% in peoplew40 yrs and 5.9% in thosew65 yrs) 
and a four-fold to five-fold increase in the incidence of stroke
Furthermore, there is the attractive hypothesis, according
to which oxidants can increase the level of blood coagulability
and modify the adhesive properties of red blood cells, thus
leading to the increased risk of ischaemic damage in indivi-
duals with vulnerable coronary circulation .
It is also necessary to mention that breathing pattern (nasal
versus oral, especially among COPD patients) may play a role,
since there is a more profound deposition of particles in the
who tend to have oral breathing, seem to have a marked
increase in pulmonary particle deposition  as well as a
reduced clearance .
There are other factors, either "endogenous" or "exogenous"
(to use the terminology introduced for the study of the natural
history of COPD ), intervening in susceptibility that may
Age, for instance, has been well studied and there is a
general consensus, as previously shown, that elderly people
are more prone than the nonelderly to the effects of pollution
[22, 48], probably because chronic conditions are more frequent
late in life. Among the classical risk factors, tobacco smoking,
hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol have been men-
tioned , but no evidence is available.
Furthermore, intense outdoor physical activity should be
evaluated not only because it is associated with oral breath-
ing, but also because it is known to carry an elevated risk of
MI and sudden death .
Socioeconomic status (SES) appears to be of some interest,
especially after the surprising findings emerged from the re-
analysis of the large American cohort studies on chronic
health effects of particulate matter. KREWSKI et al.  found
that the relative risk estimates for mortality related to average
annual particles with a 50% cut-off in aerodynamic diameter
of 2.5 mm (PM2.5) were much higher among those with less
than a high school education in comparison with those with
post high school education. The reasons for such effect
modification are not justified by several confounding factors
and remain largely unexplained. One hypothesis is that low
SES is associated with higher exposure levels.
The bulk of the observational studies carried out on the
health effects of air pollution have considered large popula-
tions in order to detect small relative risks associated with
exposure to air pollutants. However, to determine the relevant
social, biological, physiological and clinical characteristics
that increase the risk of pollution-related health effects
requires detailed information at the individual level that are
difficult to find. It is also the time to bridge the gap between
studies on short-term and long-term effects of air pollution
with appropriate epidemiological studies, which include
among others: 1) The cohort approach, in which a large
data set (including disease registries) are explored to enrol
patients with specific characteristics or conditions to be
followed in a prospective study. Various outcomes can then
be evaluated in relation to the changes (short-term or long-
term) of air pollution as long as there are complete ascertain-
ment procedures (e.g. biological parameters, mediations).
This approach permits the evaluation of the size of the risk in
the "diseased population" in comparison to the general one, as
well as the study of further specific characteristics of the
subjects within the frail group. The cohort approach is also
the first step in order to evaluate survival of patients in
relation to air pollution exposure. 2) A new and elegant study
design, the case-crossover approach, originally developed to
study triggers of MI , has recently been applied to air
pollution epidemiology . In the study, each subject is their
own control during a relevant reference period. The design, in
particular the time-stratified approach , offers unbiased
estimates of the association. The case-crossover approach
seems to be particularly suitable to explore the characteristics
of the subjects and the susceptibility factors when it is nested
within a cohort. The possibility to explore several outcome
entities is counterbalanced by loss in statistical power .
These designs will allow the role played by sex/"gender" in
human susceptibility to be investigated.
In conclusion, it is worth underlying that the finding of a
stronger association in a subpopulation with a characteristic
that predisposes them to adverse effects of exposure to air
pollution will provide insights into the specific role of the
pollutant as well as the mechanism of the effects. This finding
will also provide a basis for public health interventions.
AIR POLLUTION AND SUSCEPTIBLE SUBPOPULATIONS