Many factors influence our health. This includes biological factors, like our genes, as well as social factors, like our interactions with friends and family, and environmental factors, like our access to parks and clean air and water. Social and environmental factors are especially important in shaping child health and development, as children undergo periods of rapid growth and development that if perturbed can have lasting consequences for their physical and mental health.
As researchers interested in child health and development, our goal is to understand the biological, social, and environmental factors that influence the development and long-term well-being of children. It is our hope that by understanding which factors influence development, as well as how they influence development, we can determine how best to intervene early to ensure that all children across BC have the chance to thrive and reach their full potential.
To do this, we are establishing the MOSAIC study, which seeks to empower children and their families to take an active role in child health research. MOSAIC will enable children who are 9 to 10 years of age and their families to collect their own data and samples at home, instead of in an academic or hospital setting, which will provide a unique and inclusive approach to understand child health across BC. By collecting data and samples remotely, we will be able to reach children in every region of our province, including even the most remote communities.
The data we collect will provide information on a child’s home, school, and neighbourhood environment, their level of physical activity, as well as their moods and levels of stress. We will also collect biological samples to determine how social and environmental factors influence children at the biological level thereby potentially have lasting influences on their health. This will include collecting samples like saliva to measure levels of hormones and markers of immune function. We will also collect cheek swabs to measure epigenetic marks, which are chemical marks on our DNA that are influenced by our environment and can change the activity of our genes.
Once an initial vanguard study is complete, we hope to scale up MOSAIC so that all children in BC have a chance to participate. The data gathered through MOSAIC will provide a comprehensive assessment of how children are doing across our province and of the biological, environmental and social factors that influence their well-being. We will share this data with health authorities, government ministries and non-profit organizations so that it can be used to create policies and interventions to improve the health and well-being of all children in BC and minimize existing health disparities.