The BELHEALTH epidemiological cohort is a longitudinal study in the general population based on repeated surveys of a representative sample of adults in Belgium. It aims to monitor the evolution of health and wellbeing in the post-COVID period and to identify vulnerability factors for health and quality of life of individuals. Although the Covid-19 pandemic is becoming less of a threat, we face new challenges with profound social and economic consequences for the population. It is therefore essential to ensure continuous monitoring of the health and well-being of citizens in order to guide prevention policies, strengthen social resilience, and invest in adequate structural support.
Watch our videofor a presentation of the BELHEALTH study.
BELHEALTH is a general population cohort project, starting in September 2022 onwards, with the main goal to examine the impact of multiple stress sources on health and well-being in the adult population of Belgium.
This project allows to follow a large group of residents, always the same, over time. Together, this group of people forms what is called a “cohort” in the epidemiological jargon. Following the same group of people during a period of time is an essential approach to better understand factors that impact our resilience or that could put us at risk for mental health issues.
The objectives of BELHEALTH
- To monitor the evolution of the health and wellbeing of the adult population in Belgium.
- To examine the long term impact of the COVID pandemic and lockdown measures on the health and wellbeing of the population.
- To study the impact of different global threats on the health and wellbeing of the population.
- To study how the population deals with the developing crises (e.g. COVID-19, repercussions of the war in Ukraine), given the personal factors (e.g. personality) and socio-demographic factors (e.g. age) over time.
- To identify the psychosocial factors (e.g. social support) that reinforce population’s resilience.
- To identify subpopulations who are at higher risk of mental decompensation in times of toxic stress.
- To inform decision makers and interventions to support the population in the best way possible to deal with crises.
Method and sample
The BELHEALTH cohort project is the successor of the COVID-19 Health Survey initiative that was organized 11 times between March 2020 – June 2022. The reports of these health surveys, which also contain a chapter on mental well-being, can be found at the bottom of the project page in the ‘Associated publications’ section. While the COVID-19 Health Survey used a cross-sectional approach (open to new/different participants at each data collection point), BELHEALTH uses a longitudinal approach (follow-up of the same participants throughout data collection points) which allows to examine causal relationships.
The BELHEALTH cohort sample contains former participants of the COVID-19 Health Surveys. In order to achieve a good representativeness of the general population (especially to maintain representation of the younger age-cohorts) and to account for unavoidable drop-out (yielding in a reduction in sample size), new people from the general population are invited from time to time to participate in the cohort (postal invitations via national registers).
Starting from September 2022 members of the cohort are invited to complete an online questionnaire on a regular basis (every 3 to 4 months) including questions on health and well-being as well as potential determinants of psychological difficulties and resilience.
Protocol and questionnaire
- The study protocol describes the objectives, the scientific relevance, the methodology, the communication of results, the ethical aspects and the organization of the project.
- The questionnaires are available in Dutch, French, German and English.
The widespread use of the BELHEALTH data must encourage the development of evidence-based health policies, which in turn should improve the health of the population and reduce health inequalities in the face of adversity. This is why the project aims to facilitate the procedure for external research teams to access the BELHEALTH data.
The BELHEALTH results will be available online via an interactive tool Shiny.
- Bulletin n°3 - Belhealth
- Methodology Survey n°3.pdf
- Bulletin n°2 — BELHEALTH
- Methodology Survey n°2
- Bulletin n°1 — BELHEALTH
The psychosocial results obtained from the BELHEALTH cohort surveys will also be summarised in the Sciensano dashboard for monitoring the COVID-19 epidemiological situation and consequences in Belgium.