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Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2011 Jul;20(7):1341-9. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-11-0204.

Validation of a light questionnaire with real-life photopic illuminance measurements: the Harvard Light Exposure Assessment questionnaire.

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  • 1Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland, Ohio, USA.



Shift work, which necessitates light exposure at night, is now considered a probable carcinogen. To study the effects of light on chronic diseases like cancer, methods to measure light exposure in large observational studies are needed. We aimed to investigate the validity of self-reported current light exposure.


We developed a self-administered semiquantitative light questionnaire, the Harvard Light Exposure Assessment (H-LEA) questionnaire, and compared photopic scores derived from this questionnaire with actual photopic and circadian measures obtained from a real-life 7-day light meter application among 132 women (85 rotating night shift workers and 47 day workers) participating in the Nurses' Health Study II.


After adjustment for age, body mass index (BMI), collection day, and night work status, the overall partial Spearman correlation between self-report of light exposure and actual photopic light measurements was 0.72 (P < 0.001; Kendall τ = 0.57) and 0.73 (P < 0.0001; Kendall τ = 0.58) when correlating circadian light measurements. There were only minimal differences in accuracy of self-report of light exposure and photopic or "circadian" light measurement between day (r = 0.77 and 0.78, respectively) and rotating night shift workers (r = 0.68 and 0.69, respectively).


The results of this study provide evidence of the criterion validity of self-reported light exposure using the H-LEA questionnaire.


This questionnaire is a practical method of assessing light exposure in large-scale epidemiologic studies.

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