A growing role for gender analysis in air pollution epidemiology

Environ Health Perspect. 2010 Feb;118(2):167-76. doi: 10.1289/ehp.0900994.


Objective: Epidemiologic studies of air pollution effects on respiratory health report significant modification by sex, although results are not uniform. Importantly, it remains unclear whether modifications are attributable to socially derived gendered exposures, to sex-linked physiological differences, or to some interplay thereof. Gender analysis, which aims to disaggregate social from biological differences between males and females, may help to elucidate these possible sources of effect modification.

Data sources and data extraction: A PubMed literature search was performed in July 2009, using the terms "respiratory" and any of "sex" or "gender" or "men and women" or "boys and girls" and either "PM2.5" (particulate matter <or= 2.5 microm in aerodynamic diameter) or "NO2" (nitrogen dioxide). I reviewed the identified studies, and others cited therein, to summarize current evidence of effect modification, with attention to authors' interpretation of observed differences. Owing to broad differences in exposure mixes, outcomes, and analytic techniques, with few studies examining any given combination thereof, meta-analysis was not deemed appropriate at this time.

Data synthesis: More studies of adults report stronger effects among women, particularly for older persons or where using residential exposure assessment. Studies of children suggest stronger effects among boys in early life and among girls in later childhood.

Conclusions: The qualitative review describes possible sources of difference in air pollution response between women and men, which may vary by life stage, coexposures, hormonal status, or other factors. The sources of observed effect modifications remain unclear, although gender analytic approaches may help to disentangle gender and sex differences in pollution response. A framework for incorporating gender analysis into environmental epidemiology is offered, along with several potentially useful methods from gender analysis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollution / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Epidemiologic Methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sex Factors