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Your Environment. Your Health.

University of Southern California

Southern California Children’s Environmental Health Center (SC-CEHC)

Center Overview

Center Location: Los Angeles, CA

Public Health Impacts: With expanding roadways and increasing traffic, exposure to near-roadway air pollution is a persistent issue in the Los Angeles area. The Southern California Children’s Environmental Health Center (SC-CEHC) is performing research to understand how near-roadway air pollution impacts the risk of childhood obesity and inflammatory or metabolic issues. The SC-CEHC will work with stakeholders and community organizations to educate families about near-roadway air pollution and potential harms to children’s health, and to encourage strategies to reduce the risk of childhood obesity.

Primary Environmental Exposures: Near-roadway air pollution including elemental carbon and particulate matter

Primary Health Outcomes: Obesity, fat distribution, and adipose tissue inflammation

Center Details

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Center Investigators

Principal Investigator: Rob McConnell, M.D.

Pediatric Health Specialist: Steven Mittelman, M.D., Ph.D. 
Specialties in: Pediatric endocrinology

Project 1 Leader: Frank D. Gilliland, M.D., Ph.D. 

Project 2 Leader: Rob McConnell, M.D. 

Project 3 Leader: Hooman Allayee, Ph.D. 

Community Outreach & Translation Core Leader: Jill Johnston, Ph.D. 

Center Description & Activities

The SC-CEHC is using population-based, clinical, and experimental research to understand how near-roadway air pollution might contribute to the development of childhood obesity as well as metabolic and inflammatory abnormalities that increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The researchers are using the Children's Health Study  (CHS), one of the largest and most comprehensive investigations of long-term effects of air pollution on the respiratory health of children. More than 11,000 school children living in southern California are involved in this ongoing study.

New results from CHS showed that growth trajectory of body mass index (BMI) and obesity risk were associated with prenatal and childhood exposure to the near-roadway air pollution mixture. Thus the center is investigating the relationship between exposure to ambient particulate air pollution and obesity and its metabolic consequences. The center supports communities and leaders in working toward regulations, transportation policy, and urban design that could reduce the burden of childhood obesity and its later life consequences.

Project 1: Effects of Air Pollution on the Development of Obesity in Children

Project leader: Frank D. Gilliland, M.D., Ph.D. 

This project investigates the impact of prenatal and childhood air pollution exposure on obesity and the relationship to fat distribution, glucose regulation, lipid profile, inflammation, and metabolic syndrome - a group of risk factors that occur together and increase the risk for coronary artery disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Researchers are using cutting edge exposure assessment, imaging, and metabolite analysis to study overweight or obese children from the Children's Health Study. The researchers are focusing on the effects of elemental carbon, iron, and copper from near-roadway air pollution.

Project 2: Near-roadway Air Pollution, Adipose Inflammation, and Metabolic Consequences

Project leader: Rob McConnell, M.D. 

Researchers are studying the effects of air pollution on body fat inflammation, insulin resistance, and gene expression in biopsies from overweight or obese Children's Health Study participants. The results will fill key gaps in the understanding of mechanisms underlying the impact of exposure to toxicologically relevant air pollutants on metabolic outcomes in overweight children.

Project 3: Longitudinal Effects of Air Pollution on Obesity in Mice

Project leader: Hooman Allayee, Ph.D. 

Mouse models of obesity are used to investigate critical windows of exposure and the timing of events from gestation to maturity that link near-roadway air pollution exposure with specific biological and metabolic changes related to obesity. Results could help guide analyses for the human studies in projects 1 and 2. An innovative statistical model will integrate results from all three projects to examine the mechanisms involved in air pollutions effects on body fat, inflammation, and metabolic outcomes.

Community Outreach & Translation Core

Core leader: Jill Johnston, Ph.D.

The Community Outreach and Translation Core (COTC) will work to protect children's health through educating new constituencies on the complex issues involved in increasing outdoor physical activity to reduce obesity while considering the potential risks of active recreation near traffic pollution. A major aim will be to ensure that policy makers and planners evaluate near-road air pollution when choosing locations for new recreational facilities. A longer-term goal of the COTC is to reduce air pollution so that all outdoor play spaces are healthy places to exercise.