Population-based cohorts follow people over a long time period to provide insights in pathways of disease and ill-health development, taking into account the impact of societal and environmental factors on health and mental health. The aim of BELCOHORT is to establish a Belgian population based cohort enriched with
- existing individual and environmental data collections related to the different dimensions of life in society (i.e. health, employment, air pollution, food environment, etc.) and
- new health data collection in 2024 and 2025
These data will allow answering questions, such as:
- What are the impacts of the environment on the health of the Belgian population?
- What influence do our lifestyles have on our physical and mental health?
- How effective are government initiatives aimed at improving health, for example the effects of tobacco-free campaigns or the promotion of physical activity and healthy eating?
- What are the relationships between our mental health and our professional situation?
Health information from the perspective of citizens themselves is crucial to gain insights into what factors determine health. Our health authorities can work with these results to improve health policies.
Sciensano has an extensive expertise in the organisation of (cross-sectional) population surveys and linkages of population based data. The past couple of years Sciensano invested a lot in projects and tools which offer a great potential to start up a population cohort.
The cohort is composed of participants from previous population surveys :
The cohort will also be enriched with new subjects selected from the National Register. The project foresees linkages from different data sources:
- Individual linkages of
- health survey data (data from previous surveys and new data collections in 2024 and 2025)
- information on labour market and social protection from the crossroad bank of social security and
- sociodemographic census data from Statbel.
- Geospatial linkages with data on air pollution, green space, and the social, physical and food environment.
- It will also be explored if data from physical examinations and biological samples can be added.
The project is considered as a pilot project and a step towards a large population cohort in Belgium. The sample size has not yet been established but will be in the order of a few thousand participants.
The main objectives of the project are to:
- Generate insights that will assist in methodological choices that will have to be made when developing a large population cohort in Belgium
- Provide a proof-of-concept on how existing population-based data collections, new data collections and administrative and environmental data can be valorised in setting up a population cohort
- Define a core dataset to be collected on a yearly basis in a future large population cohort
- Explore ways in which data from the cohort can be provided to research groups outside Sciensano
- Present a use case which shows the added value of a longitudinal and multidisciplinary data collection for answering policy relevant questions within this cohort in the domain of health and society, such as the relation between population mental health and labour market outcomes
- Develop a roadmap for the further development of a large population cohort in Belgium.