HEASP - Health, Environment and Susceptible Populations

Last updated on 15-2-2023 by Cassandre Dugailliez
Project duration:
July 1, 2017
December 31, 2021

In short

Individuals  can respond differently to environmental exposures such as air pollution, depending on sociodemographic characteristics and pre-existing clinical conditions. As an example, vulnerable groups as people with chronic illnesses, exposed to the same levels of exposure as the general population, may experience more severe health effects. The aim of this project is to identify individual factors that influence the association between mortality and environmental exposures. 

Project description


The aim of the HEASP project is to identify individual factors that modify the association between mortality and environmental exposures, in Belgium. To this end, associations are assessed according to individual characteristics (age, sex…) and to individual medical conditions (diabetes, cardiorespiratory diseases…). We achieve this through the coupling of national administrative databases (causes of death, medication sales and medical interventions databases) and environmental data (especially air pollution and temperature measurements). The study population includes the people who used to live in the 9 largest Belgian cities, and who died between 2010 and 2015.

Added value at the scientific level

This work helps to determine the impact of health conditions on air pollution and heat-related mortality. The results of this work will also provide new scientific knowledge in this area such as exposure-response functions, which are at present not available for the Belgian population, nor for specific vulnerable groups. Exposure-response functions are useful in Health Impact Assessment (HIA), as a means of assessing the health impacts of policies, plans and projects in diverse economic sectors using quantitative, qualitative and participatory techniques (WHO). As an example, quantitative assessments of the years of life lost due to environmental exposure are based on such exposure-response functions.

Added value for public health

Assessing the individual and medical effect modifiers of the association between environmental exposures and mortality allows the identification of specific populations at risk. It will provide new elements to the health authorities for prevention strategies towards these populations and thus for a better anticipation / reduction of mortality in the Belgian population. The results of this work will also provide new elements for prevention strategies related to environmental exposures.


Our results allowed to identify population groups more vulnerable to extreme temperatures, as women, older people, and people with specific pre-existing health conditions (asthma, psychoses etc…). Public-health measures should consider these particular population groups when establishing strategies to prevent the effects of extreme temperatures. Our study also suggests that reducing the levels of air pollution could contribute to the reduction of the short-term effects of temperatures on mortality. This is of utmost importance in the context of climate change and global warming. 

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