Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Individual and Neighborhood Socioeconomic Status and the Association between Air Pollution and Cardiovascular Disease

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Individual and Neighborhood Socioeconomic Status and the Association between Air Pollution and Cardiovascular Disease

Article excerpt


Large population studies have routinely demonstrated that exposure to air pollution is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality (Brook et al. 2010). Low-socioeconomic status (SES) has also consistently been identified as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD) (Elo 2009). In addition, SES putatively co-varies with the spatial distribution of air pollution (Hajat et al. 2015). In this study, we set out to address two different questions regarding the role of SES in the air pollution-CVD relationship.

Our first aim was to answer a substantive question of whether individuals with low SES are more susceptible to the effects of air pollution on CVD. This question is crucial in informing air quality standards sufficient to protect the health of sensitive groups. We addressed this question by testing whether individual or neighborhood SES are effect modifiers of the air pollution-CVD relationship. Extant literature provides mixed evidence of effect modification by SES on the association between air pollution and health outcomes, including CVD. Low-SES individuals may be more susceptible to adverse effects of air pollution because they have poorer health resulting from reduced material resources, have higher psychosocial stress, and exhibit more individuals risk factors such as unhealthy behaviors and lifestyles (Elo 2009; O'Neill et al. 2003).

Our second question addresses the important methodological problem of whether SES confounds the association between air pollution and CVD. Confounding by SES is particularly concerning because low SES is a strong risk factor for CVD (Elo 2009) and also co-varies spatially with air pollution. Some North American studies have reported that communities with low SES are more likely to be exposed to higher concentrations of air pollution (Hajat et al. 2015), whereas, European research has been mixed (Hajat et al. 2015). The direction of confounding may depend on how SES co-varies with air pollution in the study population.

Epidemiological studies of air pollution health effects commonly include some measures of SES, such as individual-level education or income, but few incorporate multiple levels of SES. Both individual-level SES and neighborhood-level SES (NSES) are independently related to [PM.sub.2.5] (Chaix et al. 2006; Hajat et al. 2013). NSES may have greater impact on estimated associations of air pollution on mortality than does individual-level SES (Naess et al. 2007). Not controlling for both levels of SES may lead to potential residual confounding. In addition, individual-level and contextual NSES may increase susceptibility to air pollution-related health outcomes via different processes. For instance, individual poor health status (e.g., diabetes and obesity) may act in synergy with air pollution exposure to promote CVD (O'Neill et al. 2003). On the neighborhood level, contextual factors such as lower-housing stock may increase co-exposure of other pollutants to induce greater susceptibility to harmful effects of air pollution (O'Neill et al. 2003).

SES has been characterized as a multidimensional concept often operationalized by measuring three specific domains: education, occupation, and income/wealth--each having different effects at various times in the life course (Elo 2009). For example, some have proposed that education affects health by promoting accumulation of knowledge regarding health-promoting behaviors and technologies and by improving decision-making and problem-solving skills (Elo 2009). As for occupational class, those working in higher occupational class positions tend to have less exposure to potentially harmful chemicals and pollutants present in the workplace (O'Neill et al. 2003). Lastly, income and wealth are financial resources that enable access to health-generating resources (such as good quality housing in safe neighborhoods) and access to higher quality health care (Elo 2009). …

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