The Women and Their Children's Health (WaTCH) study: methods and design of a prospective cohort study in Louisiana to examine the health effects from the BP oil spill

BMJ Open. 2017 Jul 10;7(7):e014887. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2016-014887.


Purpose: The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill is the largest marine oil spill in US history. Few studies have evaluated the potential health effects of this spill on the Gulf Coast community. The Women and Their Children's Health (WaTCH) study is a prospective cohort designed to investigate the midterm to long-term physical, mental and behavioural health effects of exposure to the oil spill.

Participants: Women were recruited by telephone from pre-existing lists of individuals and households using an address-based sampling frame between 2012 and 2014. Baseline interviews obtained information on oil spill exposure, demographics, physical and mental health, and health behaviours. Women were also asked to provide a household roster, from which a child between 10 and 17 years was randomly selected and recruited into a child substudy. Telephone respondents were invited to participate in a home visit in which blood samples, anthropometrics and neighbourhood characteristics were measured. A follow-up interview was completed between 2014 and 2016.

Findings to date: 2852 women completed the baseline interview, 1231 of whom participated in the home visit, and 628 children participated in the child's health substudy. The follow-up interview successfully reinterviewed 2030 women and 454 children.

Future plans: WaTCH continues to conduct follow-up surveys, with a third wave of interviews planned in 2017. Also, we are looking to enhance the collection of spatially related environmental data to facilitate assessment of health risks in the study population. In addition, opportunities to participate in behavioural interventions for subsets of the cohort have been initiated. There are ongoing studies that examine the relationship between genetic and immunological markers with mental health.

Keywords: Disaster Epidemiology; Environmental Epidemiology.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Child Development*
  • Child Health
  • Child, Preschool
  • Disasters* / history
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • History, 21st Century
  • House Calls
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Louisiana
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Middle Aged
  • Petroleum Pollution / adverse effects*
  • Population Surveillance*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Research Design
  • Women's Health
  • Young Adult