Researching health risks in the population

Fish is considered a healthy food – but what about the risks? And what about a vegetarian diet? What are the consequences of air pollution for health? Those and other topics can be investigated in epidemiological observational studies. They investigate the connection between a disease (e.g. cancer) and a specific cause (e.g. exposure to a chemical substance). An international scientific conference at the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) from 9 to 10 November 2023 in Berlin will focus on the use of population-based studies in risk assessment. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is co-organising the conference. The title of the conference is: “Using Epidemiological Studies in Health Risk Assessments: Relevance, Reliability and Causality”. “Epidemiological studies are of immense importance for the health risk assessment of foods or chemical substances” says Professor Dr Matthias Greiner, Head of the Exposure Division at the BfR. “At this conference, we want to discuss how we can integrate epidemiological studies even better into health risk assessments.”

Epidemiological studies can help to identify health risks under real conditions in the population. One impressive example is the link between smoking and lung cancer that has been uncovered with their help. Epidemiological studies are often a building block in establishing a causal relationship between contact with a hazardous substance or microorganism and a negative health effect. Epidemiological studies alone cannot prove a causal relationship. However, if there are a number of meaningful epidemiological studies that point in the same direction, the totality of these studies can indicate or even provide strong evidence for a causal relationship.

The results of epidemiological studies are considered together with other forms of scientific evidence on this topic. These could be laboratory experiments or animal studies, for example. It is also important to specify the risk of bias, uncertainties and methodological limitations of the epidemiological studies used. Only in this way can all the information be integrated with the correct weighing and lead to an overall conclusion.

Note: Journalists wishing to attend the conference should register via the BfR press office ( Information about the conference:

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