Early Life Exposures in Mexico to ENvironmental Toxicants (ELEMENT)

mom and babyThe Early Life Exposures in Mexico to ENvironmental Toxicants (ELEMENT) cohort includes three birth cohorts from Mexico City maternity hospitals that have been followed for over two decades to learn how environmental exposures to metals and chemicals affect pregnant women and children. We are exposed to metals and chemicals through the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, and even the things we touch. Since it is so easy to come into contact with these toxicants, it is important to learn what short and long-term effects they have on health.

The first ELEMENT cohort began with support from the Harvard Superfund Basic Research Program and individual R01 grants and was an inter-institutional collaboration among Harvard University, the Center for Population Health Research of the National Institute of Public Health in Mexico, the American British Cowdray Medical Center and the National Institute of Perinatology of Mexico. With the movement of multiple ELEMENT investigators from Harvard University to the University of Michigan between 2006 and 2008, and from the University of Michigan to the University of Toronto, the ELEMENT cohort became a collaboration among researchers at University of Michigan, Harvard, the University of Toronto and partner agencies in Mexico.

The University of Michigan School of Public Health Children's Environmental Health Center (UM-CEHC) project collects and uses data from the existing three ELEMENT birth cohorts. The mother–child pairs of study participants were recruited over a series of years:

  • Cohort 1, 1994-1997
  • Cohort 2, 1997-2000
  • Cohort 3, 2001-2005

Data has been collected at different times including the prenatal period, early- to mid-childhood and adolescence in Cohorts 1, 2, and 3. Currently, 650 ELEMENT participants are being re-recruited for Project 1 and 2 of the CEHC to help us learn how environmental exposures to metals and chemicals during pregnancy and puberty can affect obesity, the rate of sexual maturation, and risk of metabolic syndrome (a combination of increased blood pressure, high blood sugar level, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels). We are also looking at how what you eat and drink could change these effects.

In addition, we are working closely with anthropologists at the University of Michigan to better understand the context of our findings in the lives of our participants. Dr. Elizabeth Roberts and her team use a bioethnographic approach to study health and inequality in our ELEMENT cohort. Learn more about her MEXPOS study here.

The data collected from the ELEMENT cohorts have provided important information to better understand how people are affected by metals and chemicals. The results of these studies are shared with other scientists in Mexico and elsewhere to improve the safety of women and children. The ELEMENT study team is grateful to the study participants' contributions and dedication to the research which has made advances in science possible. Here is a complete list of publications, presentations and student dissertations that have resulted from the contributions of the ELEMENT study.