Human biomonitoring from an environmental justice perspective: supporting study participation of women of Turkish and Moroccan descent

Bert Morrens*, Elly Den Hond, Greet Schoeters, Dries Coertjens, Ann Colles, Tim S. Nawrot, Willy Baeyens, Stefaan De Henauw, Vera Nelen, Ilse Loots

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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    Background: Environmental justice research shows how socially disadvantaged groups are more exposed and more vulnerable to environmental pollution. At the same time, these groups are less represented and, thus, less visible in biomedical studies. This socioeconomic participation bias is a form of environmental injustice within research practice itself. Methods: We designed, implemented and evaluated a targeted recruitment strategy to enhance the participation of socially disadvantaged pregnant women in a human biomonitoring study in Belgium. We focused on women of Turkish and Moroccan descent and developed a setup using personal buddies that enabled information transfer about study conditions in the pre-parturition period as well as support and follow-up with questionnaires in the post-parturition period. Results: We identified four barriers to the participation of women with a vulnerable social and ethnic background which were related to psychosocial and situational factors. Lack of trust in researchers and no perceived study benefits were important personal barriers; the complex study design and difficult self-administered questionnaires were equally significant barriers. Conclusion: By investing in direct, person-to-person contact with trusted buddies and supported by practical advice about cultural and linguistic sensitivity, it was possible to increase study participation of socially disadvantaged people. Above all, this required openness and flexibility in the mind-set of researchers so that study design and procedures could be better grounded in the experiences and circumstances of underprivileged groups.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number48
    JournalEnvironmental Health: A Global Access Science Source
    Number of pages9
    Publication statusPublished - 19. May 2017


    • Barriers
    • Environmental justice
    • Ethnic minorities
    • Human biomonitoring
    • Participation
    • Recruitment
    • Socially disadvantaged groups
    • Study design


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