This is how what we do and where we live impacts on health



The environment where we live and our life habits they have a huge impact on our health. A good example of the importance of environmental factors is found in the lower longevity of sedentary people or in the development of asthma and lung failure when we breathe polluted air. But also in the deactivating effect that solar radiation has on the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes the Covid-19 disease.

The thing does not end there. Both the development of cancer and that of other complex diseases, especially cardiovascular or respiratory, depends on non-genetic factors. Its severity is greatly conditioned by our behavior, lifestyle habits, environmental risk factors and other social determinants of health.

The set of all those non-genetic risk factors that affect people’s health is called exposoma. And it implies that each person is different and unique not only because of their DNA (genome), but also because of their environment and lifestyle.

A challenge for biomedical informatics

Taking the exposome into account at a health level is important. Especially since considering the social, economic and environmental complexities allows us to make better decisions for patients than if we limit ourselves to the traditional clinical approach.

However, analyzing all the data from a person’s exposome is not easy. We must not forget that, at each moment, each of us is in a different place, under variable conditions of pollution, solar radiation, noise, stress, etc.

That makes the exposome a source of Big Data that changes as a function of time and physical space. It is helped to decrypt by digital health devices, which allow continuous collection of dynamic data under real-time conditions. Among them the popular activity bracelets, mobile phones or even social networks.

Together they bring a whole new scale to the field of analysis and allow a wide range of parameters to be monitored in great detail.

The exposome and precision medicine

A health system capable of detecting that an individual has decreased their sports activity, that they frequently travel through an area of ​​high pollution and that they have increased their weight, could make personalized recommendations in this regard to improve health and prevent diseases.

There is no doubt that combining the exposome data with other health data would lead to a more proactive and efficient healthcare system. It would make possible a real-time analysis of the population taking into account the daily evolution of aspects such as weight, physical activity or blood pressure. All this, with the aim of realizing personalized recommendations to each individual under a precision medicine approach.

The exposome also finds application in the field of digital epidemiology. By detecting the appearance of generalized symptoms in specific sectors of the population, treatments could be applied in advance and monitoring of epidemics.

For example, the early detection of a generalized rise in body temperature in a sector of the population could raise the alarm. Faced with a possible relationship with a COVID-19 outbreak, the health system could be strengthened in advance. Medical assistance would be guaranteed in the area, avoiding a possible collapse.

Towards an efficient and proactive healthcare system

Through the study of the exposome, health systems will have the proactivity and capacity to detect health problems in their initial phase. They will be able to make specific recommendations for each person and establish treatments according to the socioeconomic circumstances of the individuals.

As if that were not enough, it provides them with tools to relate these aspects with pathologies detected in visits to health centers, currently included in the patient’s medical history.

We are facing the possibility of establishing a bidirectional health system, that anticipates risks and make recommendations, more efficient and resilient in the face of situations such as those experienced in the context of the current pandemic.

Miguel Atienza Maderuelo. Ph.D Student. Biomedical Sciences and Public Health, UNED – National University of Distance Education.

Fernando Martin Sanchez. Research Professor, Carlos III Health Institute.

Paloma Collado Guirao. Chair professor, UNED – National University of Distance Education.

This article was originally published on
The Conversation

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