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Approved Research

Investigating the role of early climate exposure on health and wellbeing across the lifecourse using Met Office derived climate exposures.

Principal Investigator: Dr Gareth Griffith
Approved Research ID: 80288
Approval date: April 27th 2022

Lay summary

Climate change will continue to increase the likelihood of extreme weather events such as heatwaves in coming years. A lot of research has focused on the immediate health costs of such heatwaves, such as deaths directly following the heatwave event. This is likely to understate the actual health impact of such events, as it ignores longer-term health impacts of these events. In order to understand this we must develop a statistical framework for looking at longer-term health effects of our proposed health mechanism. We will use Met office linked data to look at participants' climate exposure in early life, and look at how this associates with later life outcomes.

Several methods exist to answer such questions, each of which with different strengths and weaknesses. By combining multiple designs, we can assess the consistency of our findings and generate greater confidence in our results. Our proposed research will outline how climate-focused analyses can be carried out using large-scale datasets such as UK Biobank to help understand future health consequences, and develop recommendations for the use of climate variables in future projects.

The aim of this project is to utilise the rich UK Biobank dataset to triangulate evidence from several methodological approaches to understand the relationship between childhood climate exposures and longer term health impacts. Such relationships have previously been hard to investigate due to a lack of robustly linked, fine-resolution climate data.

We will use record linkage of UK Met Office climate records from the twentieth century, to derive several spatiotemporally specific measures of infant climate exposure. The granularity of the climate data enables us to ask nuanced research questions not permitted by coarser climate data. For instance:

  1. What is more strongly associated with lifetime cardiometabolic, cognitive or psychiatric outcomes: a single day of extreme heat, or a heatwave exposure of lesser extremity but lasting a week or more?
  2. Is the temporal pattern of such exposure important: are there specific critical developmental periods in infancy where exposure to temperature extremes is more important?
  3. Are the effects of climate mediated by the effects of climate change on individual behavioural exposures such as diet or physical activity?
  4. Are the impacts of climate exposure mediated by structural factors associated with local context, such as deprivation or access to green space?

We will extend this work to consider associations between a range of health outcomes with exposure to air pollution - again using linked data from the Met office. We will use this to investigate the associations between mid- and later-life residence, and mid- and later- life pollution exposure and use spatial modelling techniques to unpick whether such associations are truly associated with the air pollution exposure - or could plausibly be a consequence of other associated spatial confounds.

This will allow us to further investigate for instance:

  1. How is exposure to air pollution in later life linked to diagnoses of dementia?
  2. Are there age groups for which such an association might be stronger?

3.  Is this association modified by other demographic factors beyond age, such as sex, education, or other comorbidities?