Ontology of active and passive environmental exposure

Tracking #: 3356-4570

This paper is currently under review
Csilla Vamos
Simon Scheider
Tabea Sonnenschein
Roel Vermeulen

Responsible editor: 
Cogan Shimizu

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Full Paper
Exposure is a central concept of the health and behavioural sciences needed to study the influence of the environment on the health and behavior of people within a spatial context. While an increasing number of studies measure different forms of exposure, including the influence of air quality, noise, and crime, the influence of land cover on physical activity, or of the urban environment on food intake, we lack a \textit{common conceptual model} of environmental exposure that captures its main structure across all this variety. Against the background of such a model, it becomes possible not only to systematically compare different methodological approaches, but also to better link and align the content of the vast amount of scientific publications on this topic in a systematic way. For example, an important methodical distinction is between studies that model exposure as an exclusive outcome of some activity versus ones where the environment acts as a direct independent cause (\textit{active vs. passive exposure}). Here, we propose an ontology design pattern that can be used to define exposure and to model its variants. It is built around causal relations between concepts including persons, activities, concentrations, exposures, environments and health risks. We formally define environmental stressors and variants of exposure using Description Logic (DL), which allows automatic inference from the RDF-encoded content of a paper. Furthermore, concepts can be linked with data models and modelling methods used in a study. To test the pattern, we translated competency questions into SPARQL queries and ran them over RDF-encoded content. Results show how study characteristics can be classified and summarized in a manner which reflects important methodical differences.
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