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1.  Public health in the genomic era: will Public Health Genomics contribute to major changes in the prevention of common diseases? 
The completion of the Human Genome Project triggered a whole new field of genomic research which is likely to lead to new opportunities for the promotion of population health. As a result, the distinction between genetic and environmental diseases has faded. Presently, genomics and knowledge deriving from systems biology, epigenomics, integrative genomics or genome-environmental interactions give a better insight on the pathophysiology of common diseases. However, it is barely used in the prevention and management of diseases. Together with the boost in the amount of genetic association studies, this demands for appropriate public health actions. The field of Public Health Genomics analyses how genome-based knowledge and technologies can responsibly and effectively be integrated into health services and public policy for the benefit of population health. Environmental exposures interact with the genome to produce health information which may help explain inter-individual differences in health, or disease risk. However today, prospects for concrete applications remain distant. In addition, this information has not been translated into health practice yet. Therefore, evidence-based recommendations are few. The lack of population-based research hampers the evaluation of the impact of genomic applications. Public Health Genomics also evaluates the benefits and risks on a larger scale, including normative, legal, economic and social issues. These new developments are likely to affect all domains of public health and require rethinking the role of genomics in every condition of public health interest. This article aims at providing an introduction to the field of and the ideas behind Public Health Genomics.
PMCID: PMC3436652  PMID: 22958637
Epidemiology; Genomics; Epigenomics; Prevention; Public Health; Public Health Genomics; Translational Research; Policymaking; Personalised Healthcare
2.  Belgian health-related data in three international databases 
Aims of the study
This study wants to examine the availability of Belgian healthcare data in the three main international health databases: the World Health Organization European Health for All Database (WHO-HFA), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Health Data 2009 and EUROSTAT.
For the indicators present in the three databases, the availability of Belgian data and the source of these data were checked.
Main findings
The most important problem concerning the availability of Belgian health-related data in the three major international databases is the lack of recent data. Recent data are available for 27% of the indicators of the WHO-HFA database, 73% of the OECD Health Data, and for half of the Eurostat indicators. Especially recent data about health status (including mortality-based indicators) are lacking.
Only the availability of the health-related data is studied in this article. The quality of the Belgian data is however also important to examine.
The main problem concerning the availability of health data is the timeliness. One of the causes of this lack of (especially mortality) data is the reform of the Belgian State. Nowadays mortality data are provided by the communities. This results in a delay in the delivery of national mortality data. However several efforts are made to catch up.
PMCID: PMC3436617  PMID: 22958554
Belgium; databases; health status indicators; public health
3.  Words, words, words 
PMCID: PMC3436648  PMID: 22958413
4.  Human biomonitoring on heavy metals in Ath: methodological aspects 
Archives of Public Health  2011;69(1):10.
The municipality of Ath is characterised by the presence, in its center, of two non-ferrous metal industries whose emissions make local residents concerned for their health. Therefore, authorities of the Walloon Region and the municipality of Ath undertook biomonitoring to assess the impact of those industrial emissions on heavy metal body burden in humans.
This paper describes the study design and methodology used to carry out this human biomonitoring.
A random sampling was done in the general population, in two areas of Ath: an area centered around the industries and a peripheral area. The target population was children (2.5-11 years) and adults (40-60 years) without occupational exposure. The three-stage sampling procedure consisted of a mixture of both mail and telephone recruitment. Firstly, 3259 eligible people, identified from a population register, were mailed an introductory letter. In a second stage, eligible individuals were contacted by phone to propose them to participate in the study. They were randomly contacted until the required sample size was obtained. In the third stage, a second mail was sent to those who agreed to participate with a questionnaire to be filled out. Finally, biological samples (blood and urine) from 278 persons were collected. The final participation rate of this study was 24%.
This sampling procedure, especially designed for the purpose of this biomonitoring study in Ath, allowed us to recruit a sample representative of the population of children and adults of Ath, reaching the expected sample size in a short period of time.
PMCID: PMC3436742  PMID: 22958427
Ath; biomonitoring; heavy metals; methodology; sampling; study design
5.  High burden of breast cancer in Belgium: recent trends in incidence (1999-2006) and historical trends in mortality (1954-2006) 
In Belgium, breast cancer mortality has been monitored since 1954, whereas cancer incidence data have only been made available for a few years. In this article we update historical trends of breast cancer mortality and describe the recent breast cancer incidence.
Incidence data were extracted from the Belgium Cancer Registry from 2004 to 2006 for the Walloon and Brussels Regions and Belgium, and from 1999 to 2006 for the Flemish Region. The Directorate-general Statistics and Economic information provided the mortality data for the years 1954-1999 and 2004. The regional authorities of the Flemish and Brussels Regions provided the mortality data for the years 2000-2003 and 2005-2006.
In 2004, the World age-standardised breast cancer incidence for the whole of Belgium was 110 per 100, 000 person-years for all ages; and 172, 390 and 345 per 100, 000 person-years for the 35-49, 50-69, and 70+ age groups, respectively. The incidence rate was slightly higher in each age group in the Brussels Region. In Flanders, where the incidence could be observed during a longer period, an increase was observed until 2003 in the 50-69 age group, followed by a decrease. To the contrary, in the oldest age group, incidence continued to rise over the whole period, whereas no change in incidence was observed between 1999 and 2006 in the 35-49 age group.
Mortality increased until the late 1980s and afterwards decreased in all regions and in age groups younger than 70. In women of 70 years and older, the decline began later.
The burden of breast cancer in Belgium is very high. In 2004, Belgium ranked first for the age-standardised incidence rate in Europe for all ages combined and in the 35-49 and 50-69 age groups. The impact of the known risk factors and of mammographic screening should be further studied. The mortality rate in Belgium ranked lower than incidence, suggesting favourable survival. Plausible explanations for the discrepancy between incidence and mortality are discussed.
PMCID: PMC3436615  PMID: 22958447
6.  Alcohol during pregnancy and lactation: recommendations versus real intake 
Archives of Public Health  2011;68(4):134-142.
Even though total abstinence of alcohol for pregnant and lactating women is recommended, consumption prevalences ranging from 12% up to 30% have been reported. No Belgian data on alcohol consumption in pregnant women were recently published.
First, a literature search on the effects of alcohol consumption during pregnancy and lactation was performed in the MEDLINE database using Pubmed. Secondly, in a prospective study the alcohol consumption of 215 Belgian women was evaluated every trimester through 7-day food records. The international standard unit for alcohol or 1 standard glass equals 13.5 g pure ethanol. Binge drinking was defined as drinking more than 50 g on one occasion.
Prenatal exposure of the foetus to alcohol can lead to a broad range of anomalies, including pre- and postnatal growth retardation, preterm delivery, central or craniofacial dysmorphia, neurological and behavioural disorders and disorders of cognitive function, which can persist throughout adulthood. In the Belgian study population, total abstinence of alcohol was seen in 76% of the women. Of the 24% of women who consumed alcohol, 13.9% consumed alcohol during 1 of the 3 weeks. These women were considered to be low consumers. Five women (2.5%) reported drinking during all 3 weeks of recording. This could suggest that these women drink more regularly. No binge drinking was recorded. The maximum amount was 5 consumptions per week.
Even though total abstinence of alcohol for pregnant and lactating women is recommended, at least 25% of pregnant women still consumes alcohol. Health care providers have to be aware of the underreporting of alcohol use by pregnant women, especially if they drink heavily since they fear of being stigmatised.
PMCID: PMC3436706
7.  How can the results of a qualitative process evaluation be applied in management, improvement and modification of a preventive community trial? The IHHP Study 
This study reports the results of the qualitative process evaluation (PE) of the Isfahan Healthy Heart Program (IHHP), an integrated community-based trial for prevention and control of non-communicable diseases in Iran.
The study explored the overall quality of program implementation. The participants, including designers of IHHP, stakeholders and community members (n = 60) were purposefully recruited from the intervention areas. Data collected from semi-structured interviews and field notes were analyzed using a modified thematic analysis.
Four main themes were identified. Our findings highlighted the key role of the resources as both facilitating and hindering factors. IHHP directors faced incompatibilities arising from negative perceptions/attitudes which resulted in decreased adherence to the program. Hence various strategies were used to motivate, strengthen and organize the human workforce implementing the program.
Recommendations arising from evaluation of the program were used in subsequent stages of implementation. Qualitative research is an important component of community trials which can improve their implementation.
PMCID: PMC3436741  PMID: 22958679
Community interventions; Health behavior; Health; Cardiovascular; program evaluation
8.  Trends of violence among 7th, 8th and 9th grade students in the state of Lara, Venezuela: The Global School Health Survey 2004 and 2008 
Violence by young people is one of the most visible forms of violence and contributes greatly to the global burden of premature death, injury and disability.
The Global School-based Student Health Survey (GSHS), State of Lara, Venezuela (GSHS-Lara) is a school-based surveillance system. It comprises a repeated, cross-sectional, self-administered survey drawn from a representative sample of 7th to 9th grade students, performed in the school years 2003-2004 (GSHS-Lara 2004) and 2007-2008 (GSHS-Lara 2008). It explores, among other things, a general violence indicator such as school absenteeism due to feeling unsafe at school or on the way to or from school for any reason; and more specific indicators of violence such as robbery, bullying, physical fights and use of weapons, as well as exposure to lectures on how to prevent violence. Results are given in terms of prevalence percentage.
Absenteeism doubled between the two study periods (10.8% to 20.8%). The number of students that were a victim of robbery remained high and without change both outside (14.2% and 14.8%) and inside school (21.7% and 22.0%). The number of victims of bullying was high and increasing (33.4% and 43.6%). Bullying associated with being physically attacked decreased (18.5% to 14.3%). Physical attacks without active participation and not associated with bullying were frequent (21.5%). Physical fighting with active participation prevalence remained high and without change (27.5% and 28.2%). Carrying a weapon almost doubled (4.3% to 7.1%). Less than 65% reported classes for violence prevention.
The GSHS-Lara shows that violence is an important public health problem that needs to be addressed by the community and its authorities.
PMCID: PMC3436614  PMID: 22958602
Adolescents; Behavior; Bullying; Health Education; Physical Fight; Robbery; Unsafe School; Venezuela; Violence; Weapon
9.  Dietary sources of energy and macronutrient intakes among Flemish preschoolers 
This study aims to identify major food sources of energy and macronutrients among Flemish preschoolers as a basis for evaluating dietary guidelines. Three-day estimated diet records were collected from a representative sample of 696 Flemish preschoolers (2.5-6.5 years old; participation response rate: 50%). For 11 dietary constituents, the contribution of 57 food groups was computed by summing the amount provided by the food group for all individuals divided by the total intake of the respective nutrient for all individuals. Bread (12%), sweet snacks (12%), milk (6%), flavoured milk drinks (9%), and meat products (6%) were the top five energy contributors. Sweet snacks were among the top contributors to energy, total fat, all fatty acids, cholesterol, and complex and simple carbohydrates. Fruit juices and flavoured milk drinks are the main contributors to simple carbohydrates (respectively 14% and 18%). All principal food groups like water, bread and cereals, vegetables, fruit, milk and spreadable fats were under-consumed by more than 30% of the population, while the food groups that were over-consumed consisted only of low nutritious and high energy dense foods (sweet snacks, sugared drinks, fried potatoes, sauces and sweet spreads). From the major food sources and gaps in nutrient and food intakes, some recommendations to pursue the nutritional goals could be drawn: the intake of sweet snacks and sugar-rich drinks (incl. fruit juices) should be discouraged, while consumption of fruits, vegetables, water, bread and margarine on bread should be encouraged.
PMCID: PMC3436670  PMID: 22958525
10.  The association between residential area characteristics and mental health outcomes among men and women in Belgium 
Recently, interest has grown in the association between contextual factors and health outcomes. This study questions whether mental health complaints vary according to the socio-economic characteristics of the residential area where people live. The gender-specific patterns are studied.
Complaints of depression and generalized anxiety were measured by means of the relevant subscales of the Symptoms Checklist 90-Revised. Multilevel models were estimated with PASW statistics 18, based on a unique dataset, constructed by merging data from the Belgian Health Interview Surveys from 2001 and 2004 with data from 264 municipalities derived from Statistics Belgium and the General Socio-Economic Survey.
Main findings
The results of this exploratory study indicate that the local unemployment rate is associated with complaints of depression among women.
This study suggests that policy should approach the male and female population differently when implementing mental health prevention campaigns.
PMCID: PMC3436616  PMID: 22958473
11.  Dietary exposure assessments for children in europe (the EXPOCHI project): rationale, methods and design 
The number of dietary exposure assessment studies focussing on children is very limited. Children are however a vulnerable group due to their higher food consumption level per kg body weight. Therefore, the EXPOCHI project aims [1] to create a relational network of individual food consumption databases in children, covering different geographical areas within Europe, and [2] to use these data to assess the usual intake of lead, chromium, selenium and food colours.
EXPOCHI includes 14 food consumption databases focussed on children (1-14 y old). The data are considered representative at national/regional level: 14 regions covering 13 countries. Since the aim of the study is to perform long-term exposure assessments, only data derived from 24 hr dietary recalls and dietary records recorded on at least two non-consecutive days per individual were included in the dietary exposure assessments. To link consumption data and concentration data of lead, chromium and selenium in a standardised way, categorisation of the food consumption data was based on the food categorisation system described within the SCOOP Task report 3.2.11. For food colours, the food categorisation system specified in the Council Directive 94/36/EC was used.
The EXPOCHI project includes a pan-European long-term exposure assessment of lead, chromium, selenium and food colours among children living in 13 different EU countries. However, the different study methods and designs used to collect the data in the different countries necessitate an in-depth description of these different methods and a discussion about the resulting limitations.
PMCID: PMC3436650  PMID: 22958503
Food; dietary exposure assessment; children; Europe; design; concentration data; health risk; consumption data; lead; chromium; selenium; food colours
12.  Nutritional intake of various groups of Flemish vegetarians 
Archives of Public Health  2011;68(4):121-133.
The most recent national nutritional survey (2004) indicates that 1.2% of the Flemish population follows a vegetarian diet. Information on nutritional intake in vegetarians in this population is scarce.
The aim of the present study is to describe the nutritional intake and dietary adequacy of various groups of Flemish vegetarians.
Materials and methods
Nutritional intake was assessed in various vegetarian groups from different study designs: young children (aged 1 to 10 y; n = 27) (Group 1), adolescents and adults (aged 11 to 32 y; n = 50) (Group 2), college students (aged 18 to 24 y; n= 24) (Group 3), life-long vegetarians (aged 14 to 71 y; n = 36) (Group 4) and adults (aged 20 to 98; n= 106) (Group 5). Additionally, blood samples were collected and analysed in groups 3 and 4. Comparisons were made with standard references or with omnivores (Group 3).
Nutritional intake was found to be close to the Belgian RDA. However, all groups showed a number of outliers with an intake of some nutrients above or below the RDAs. Blood biochemistry showed low cholesterol, iron and vitamin B12 levels in vegetarians when comparing respectively with omnivores pairs (Group 3) and with reference values (Group 4).
Data collected in Flemish vegetarians indicate that a vegetarian diet may be adequate. However, the outliers in all groups show that proper dietary planning is advisable.
PMCID: PMC3436705
Nutritional intake; dietary adequacy; Flemish vegetarians
13.  Using neural network as a screening and educational tool for abnormal glucose tolerance in the community 
Gao, W | Dong, F | Nie, S | Shi, L
Archives of Public Health  2011;68(4):143-154.
Accurate, simple and non-invasive tools are needed for efficient screening of abnormal glu-cose tolerance (AGT) and educating the general public.
To develop a neural network-based initial screening and educational model for AGT.
Data and methods
230 subjects with AGT and 3,243 subjects with normal glucose tolerance (NGT) were allocated into training, validation and test sets using stratified randomization. The ratios of AGT versus NGT in three groups were 150:50, 30:570 and 50:950, respectively. A feed-forward neural network (FFNN) was trained to predict 2-hour plasma glucose of 75 g Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT) using age, family history of diabetes, weight, height, waist and hip circumference. The screening performance was evaluated by the area under the receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve (AUC) and the partial AUC (in the range of false positive rates between 35 and 65%) and compared to those from logistic regression, linear regression and ADA Risk Test.
Sensitivity, specificity, accuracy and percentage that needed further testing at 7.2 mmol/L in test group were 90.0%(95%CI: 78.6 to 95.7%), 47.7% (95%CI: 44.5 to 50.9%), 49.8% (95%CI: 46.7 to 52.9%) and 54.2% (95%CI: 51.1 to 57.3%) respectively. The entire and partial AUCs were 0.70 (95%CI: 0.62 to 0.78) and 0.26 (95%CI: 0.22 to 0.30). The partial AUC of the NN was higher than those of logistic regression (p = 0.06), linear regression (p = 0.06) and ADA Risk Test (P = 0.006).
NN can be used as a high-sensitive and non-invasive initial screening and educational tool for AGT.
PMCID: PMC3436707
Screening; diabetes mellitus; Abnormal Glucose Tolerance; risk factors; neural networks

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