Ikeda: When you hear the word "environment," the first thing that comes to mind is the natural environment, such as mountains with lush trees and rivers flowing through the land. On the other hand, our research subjects are more familiar to us, such as the air we breathe and the "environment" of our daily lives, which we touch and eat every day.
Dr. Atsuko Ikeda is a member of Japan's first birth cohort study, the Hokkaido Study on Environment and Child Health (abbreviation: Hokkaido Study). Cohort research is a research method that investigates the relationship between diseases and their factors over a long period of time.In large-scale birth cohorts, tens of thousands of people are studied while they are in the womb before they are born. In some cases, follow-up studies are conducted over a period of about 20 years, from birth until adulthood. We live our lives surrounded by a wide variety of chemicals, and we talked about how and to what extent they affect our health over the long term.
Clarifying the relationship between living environment and health
How often do we come into contact with chemicals in our lives?
Ikeda: For example, an adult male takes in about 15 kg of air, 750 g of solid food, and 1.5 kg of water per day. If you ingest this much, if it contains harmful substances, it will naturally affect your health. For example, some products used as interior materials for rooms contain chemical substances called plasticizers, and it has been reported that some of these chemicals can disrupt hormones. We already know that we breathe in these chemicals along with the dust.
Health is not only affected by daily diet, exercise, and sleep, but also by the living environment.
Ikeda: In recent years, the concept has been considered that the environment from the fetal stage to around 3 years of age influences later diseases. Our research is also trying to find out whether this is true, and if so, what impact it will have.
To introduce a familiar example, there is a chemical substance called organic fluorine compound, which is one of the substances that is included in waterproof sprays and coatings for paper, cloth, etc. It has been found that when pregnant mothers have high concentrations of this chemical in their blood, their children have a lower risk of developing allergies by the age of 7.
If it lowers the risk of allergies, isn't that a positive effect?
I think so. On the other hand, the risk of contracting an infection increases slightly. Allergies are caused by an overreaction of the immune system, so this chemical may weaken the immune system. If this chemical substance disrupts the balance of immunity that humans originally maintain, it cannot be overlooked.
Even if we talk about the effects on health in a nutshell, we need to look at various aspects.
Ikeda: You can't just look at one aspect and say that something is good or bad for your health. In addition to chemical substances, physical factors such as indoor ventilation are also involved, as well as economic factors, lifestyles such as what we eat and what kind of activities we do, and human beings. A variety of factors are involved, including relationship stress.
Hokkaido Study is an asset that connects future researchers
Please tell us about the large-scale birth cohort research conducted by the Hokkaido Study.
Ikeda: In the example above, when a 7-year-old child develops an allergy, it is too late to investigate the cause. Unless you have a time machine, you cannot go back in time and investigate. The solution to this problem is our research using a research method called `` birth cohort.''
In this research, pregnant mothers cooperate with us even before their children are born, even when they are still fetuses. We receive mother's blood and umbilical cord blood, and after birth, we follow up with the child and conduct regular questionnaire surveys, as well as medical examinations, blood samples, and urine samples. Although it is difficult to receive blood from healthy people, fortunately many people understand the importance of the research and are cooperating.
In this way, by accumulating data and biological samples before the disease develops, we can compare, for example, children who developed allergies at the age of 7 with children who do not develop allergies, and find out what kind of chemical substances they are affected by. You can check whether the
We use the data we have collected in advance to determine the cause. How many children are being surveyed?
Ikeda: The Hokkaido Study started in 2001 and consists of two types of research: one in Sapporo and one across Hokkaido. Approximately 500 pregnant women in Sapporo and 20,000 pregnant women throughout Hokkaido have cooperated, and we are continuing to investigate their children.
The amount of data that has been accumulated over a considerable amount of time is enormous.
Ikeda: In addition to the chemicals I mentioned earlier, it has also been discovered that insufficient ventilation from heating systems increases the risk of asthma, and that mothers who are too thin have smaller babies. The key to uncovering health risk factors is the vast amount of data we have collected, and this data can be called an asset to Hokkaido University. This wealth will continue to grow, and there are limits to what I can do with it during my career as a researcher. Therefore, I hope that the younger generation, who will soon become university students and researchers, will be involved in this valuable research, and that they will explore much knowledge and utilize it to solve problems.
What more will we learn as we continue our research?
Ikeda: What we are currently able to publish in papers is data on children up to about 7 years old. We have learned so far that it affects children during early childhood, but there are still many things that are not clear about what happens when children grow up. As you grow, will this effect gradually weaken or will it persist? What are the new impacts? We believe it is necessary to continue to follow up on your child.
Of the children currently being tracked in the survey, the largest one is now a high school student. When they become high school students, they experience secondary sex characteristics (the physical characteristics of men and women that appear during adolescence), and eventually become adults when they begin to develop so-called lifestyle-related diseases such as high blood pressure. We will also look at these impacts more broadly.
With the knowledge we have discovered, we can create a healthy environment.
Ikeda: Yes, it is extremely important to convey the knowledge we have gained to citizens so that they can use it in their daily lives, and I think we must put all our efforts into it. However, we do not intend to make sensational statements such as saying that this is bad for the body and that we should abolish it altogether. For example, portable stoves pose a health risk because they do not have outdoor exhaust vents, but they can also be used without electricity, making them useful during power outages. Use it when you need it, don't use it when you don't. I believe it is important to consider the environment around us as something related to our health and make choices accordingly.
One goal is connected to multiple goals
Your research is connected to SDG number 3, “Good health and well-being for all.”
Ikeda: Our research is directly connected to the third goal of the SDGs, ` `Good health and well-being for all,'' but it is also directly linked to the third goal of the SDGs, ``Good health and well-being for all,'' but it is also linked to the `` responsibility of producing and consuming products'' that contain chemicals, for example. Since there is, number 12 is also involved.
Chemical substances derived from familiar plastics are known to affect health, and this is also related to the standard of living, with people having no choice but to rely on cheap plastic products. In this way, even if you look at just one factor that affects health, there is no end to it if you dig deeper into the factors that cause it, such as the standard of living in the country or region you live in, educational disparity, economic disparity, and the gender inequality behind these factors. .
What this means is that in order to achieve the goal of "good health and well-being for all," it is necessary to tackle and improve other complex goals in parallel without the SDGs movement. I mean, it's unthinkable. Our health cannot be achieved without a healthy environment through sustainable development.
When you think about it, the global environment such as the sea and land is connected to the environment around us that is related to our health.
Ikeda: If we can reduce plastic and waste, we will contribute to No. 14, "Let's protect the richness of the ocean," and No. 15, "Let's protect the richness of the land." Furthermore, it is also indirectly related to the health of the city, and number 11, `` Creating cities where people can continue to live,'' is also related to number 13, `` Concrete measures to combat climate change,'' if waste combustion is reduced. In this way, addressing one of the 17 SDGs will also lead to solutions for other related goals.
Expanding our network and making research results useful to society
These are complex issues, but what do you think is necessary to solve them?
Ikeda: I think number 17, `` Let's achieve our goals through partnership,'' is the key to solving this problem. Our research is cross-disciplinary, with cooperation from teachers in medicine, health, pharmacy, and veterinary medicine, as well as engineering teachers in areas such as noise and architecture, and education teachers in developmental psychology. Furthermore, from now on, we will be analyzing big data about living organisms such as genes, so information science will also become important. We hope to further enrich our cohort research by inviting researchers from a variety of fields to participate and conduct more multifaceted research.
The fields of education and engineering, which at first glance seem unrelated to "environment and health," are connected.
Ikeda: There are really many ways to research one thing. When I was an undergraduate, I majored in genetic engineering. Genetic engineering, as the name suggests, looks at the microscopic aspects of genes, but in contrast, the cohort research I am currently conducting is research that looks at the macroscopic aspects of people and their surrounding environments. Although my knowledge of genetic engineering is not directly useful, I believe that my strength is that I have both micro and macro perspectives.
I realized once again the importance of seeing things from multiple perspectives.
Ikeda: In that respect, Hokkaido University is a comprehensive university, with professors from various fields gathered on one campus, and there are many accumulated research results, so we have no choice but to take advantage of this research environment. There are many professors who are very interested in the SDGs, and I plan to find and approach them who would be willing to collaborate with me on research.
Our goal is to create an environment that is good for the earth and for our health.
Ikeda: To that end, I believe we must not clarify the risks and leave it at that. We need to take a step back and think about how we can prevent and reduce that risk. For example, we would like to share information with public health nurses and nurses so that the knowledge gained from our research can be utilized at local health centers and nursing sites. I believe that we must continue to build networks from a perspective that includes implementation to solve problems.
It is important to have both a network of researchers who can clarify a single problem from multiple perspectives, and a network that can feed back the knowledge gained through that research to society. I felt that even when it comes to the single theme of the environment and health, it is important to approach it from multiple perspectives and work toward resolving issues. Thank you, Mr. Ikeda.
Hokkaido University URA Station / SDGs Initiative Office (Planning)
Space Time Co., Ltd. Keiko Nakamura (Director/Editing/Writing) Kyohei Hosoya (Writing)
PRAG Kenta Nakamura (Photography *Close-up shot of Mr. Ikeda)
Atsuko Ikeda (Araki) Professor
Affiliation: Hokkaido University Graduate School Faculty of Health Sciences Center for Environmental and Health Sciences
WHO Collaborating Center for Environmental Health and Prevention of Chemical Hazards
Health science, environmental epidemiology, hygiene
My dream when I was in high school was to become a nurse. Studied genetic engineering at university and engaged in drug discovery research at a pharmaceutical company. After that, I decided to attend graduate school because I wanted to do epidemiological research on humans. He began researching "environment and health," particularly environmental chemicals and health.