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National Toxicology Program

National Toxicology Program

UPDATE NewsletterUPDATE NewsletterAugust 2016

New tool for economic analyses in environmental health research

By Kelly Lenox
Reprinted from Environmental Factor

NIEHS has developed a new tool to help environmental health researchers who want to include economic analyses in their studies. The Environmental Health Economic Analysis Annotated Bibliography is a list of more than 70 scientific papers, reports, and reviews on environmental health topics, all of which include some form of economic analysis.

The list is searchable by terms for economic models and variables, environmental exposures, and health outcomes. More studies will be added periodically.

Informing public policy

By advancing our understanding of how the environment affects health, NIEHS-funded research can lead to meaningful improvements in public health — if the results are used by individuals and policymakers to reduce hazardous exposures.

“We want to increase the usability of the research that is already in progress,” said Christie Drew, Ph.D., head of the Program Analysis Branch in the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT).

“When a report on, say, the effects of mercury on the developing brain, includes data that quantifies economic implications, policymakers are more likely to take action,” she pointed out (see sample search result). “We thought that highlighting economic work that is already published would be a great first step in helping researchers think about the types of economic questions that might be applicable to their work.”

Finding databases, costs, methodologies, collaborators

“I was present at one of the [NIEHS strategic] planning meetings and am very excited to see how quickly this project came to fruition,” said Phil Brown, Ph.D., from Northeastern University. “Researchers can locate major databases that include economic factors, such as NHANES [the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey], the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, and foundation databases,” he continued.

One of Brown’s students, Stephanie Clark, studies the effects of indoor air toxicants. “This database provides a much needed resource for environmental health and public health researchers who want to highlight the costs of exposure to various environmental hazards, while providing a quantitative analysis to policymakers,” she said.

NIEHS grantee Irva Hertz-Picciotto, Ph.D., from the University of California at Davis, said the database helped her locate articles on the economic costs of the health effects associated with pesticides. “I am planning to share those papers with a health economist, as background, and [for] possible ideas about how to proceed on an analysis of our own on this topic,” she said.

The database may also lead scientists to potential collaborators. “A researcher studying asthma can find both the kinds of analyses that have been performed, and others who might be asking similar questions,” said Kristi Pettibone, Ph.D., NIEHS project coordinator for the new resource.

Supporting NIEHS and NIH priorities

The NIEHS strategic plan inspired the tool’s development. Goal 10 of the plan addresses the economic impact of actions that reduce environmental exposures and calls for developing tools and databases to support such research.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) also supports economic studies. “Health economics research that makes a strong, explicit tie to health and health-related outcomes is central to the NIH mission,” wrote Carrie Wolinetz, Ph.D., NIH associate director for science policy, in a blog post. Her post accompanied the Nov. 25, 2015 release of an NIH notice titled “Clarifying NIH Priorities for Health Economics Research.”

According to the notice, among the highest priorities for the NIH are studies that use economic approaches to measure impacts of interventions on health outcomes or that assess how environmental and other factors affect health outcomes, health disparities, and responses to interventions.

Drawing on diverse perspectives

Drew and Pettibone worked with a team, who represent a range of NIEHS programs, to help develop the database.

Sharon Beard — Worker Training Program, DERT
Caroline Dilworth, Ph.D. — Population Health Branch, DERT
Barbara Gittleman — Grants Management Branch, DERT
Michelle Heacock, Ph.D. — Superfund Research Program, DERT
William Jackson — summer intern, Program Analysis Branch, DERT
Alfonso Latoni, Ph.D. — head of Scientific Review Branch, DERT
Pat Mastin, Ph.D. — deputy director, DERT
Sheila Newton, Ph.D. — director, NIEHS Office of Policy, Planning, and Evaluation.
Molly Puente, Ph.D — Grants Management Branch, DERT
Kris Thayer, Ph.D. — deputy division director for analysis, National Toxicology Program (NTP)
Mary Wolfe, Ph.D. — deputy division director for policy, NTP
Demia Wright — Worker Training Program, DERT

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Director of Office of Policy, Review, and Outreach and Editor-in-Chief: Mary Wolfe | Managing Editor: Anna Lee Mosley