Linking socioeconomic status to environmental pollution exposures over the life course: population-based research using biomarkers to investigate the effects of exposure on small for gestational age …

Dr. Scott Venners is studying the impact of exposures to environmental pollutants and their links to health inequalities between richer and poorer people, specifically small size at birth and diabetes in adulthood. As in many Canadian cities, babies born to mothers in socially and materially poorer parts of Vancouver are more likely to be born under-sized than those born in other parts of the city, and higher levels of second-hand smoke exposure may be a factor.

Venners will test exposure to second-hand smoke by measuring cotinine (a byproduct of nicotine) in serum (blood) samples from non-smoking pregnant women. He will then investigate whether non-smoking women with higher levels of serum cotinine (and thus with higher second-hand smoke exposures) are more likely to have a baby that is too small. The project will also test whether some babies are genetically more susceptible to adverse effects of second-hand smoke during pregnancy. Finally, Venners will test whether non-smoking pregnant women who live in poorer areas of Vancouver have higher levels of serum cotinine compared to others, which would suggest that they were exposed to more second-hand smoke. This evidence will provide a better understanding of whether reducing exposures to second-hand smoke will reduce disparities between poorer and richer areas in the likelihood a baby will be born too small.

In addition to passive smoking, the project will study other important classes of pollutants that may be linked to small size at birth. The project will also study the links between socioeconomic status, exposure to mixtures of persistent organic pollutants in adulthood, and inequalities in diabetes risk between richer and poorer Canadians.