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GUEST BLOG: Clean Air From The First Breath

Editors Note: This article originally appeared on The PediaBlog on Oct. 31. HUGE thank you to Dr. Ned Ketyer, who graciously allowed us to republish it.

This past week on The PediaBlog, we listed the many serious, and in some cases, life-threatening health impacts adults suffer when the air they breathe is polluted. Mary McDougall examines the health effects of air pollution in children:

Air pollution also effects neurological development and cognitive ability and can trigger asthma and childhood cancer, the [WHO] report says. Children exposed to excessive pollution may also be at greater risk of chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease in adulthood.

“Air pollution is stunting our children’s brains, affecting their health in more ways than we suspected. But there are many straightforward ways to reduce emissions of dangerous pollutants,” said Dr. Maria Neira, director of the Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health at the WHO.

According to the WHO, children are more susceptible to pollution because they breathe more often, taking in more pollutants, and are closer to the ground, which is where some pollutants have higher concentrations.

 

Just in the last two years, research from around the world reveals the degree to which fetuses, infants, and children are at high risk for complications of this environmental health crisis. Consider these headlines:

Air pollution from London traffic is affecting the health of unborn babies

“The findings come from a study of more than half a million infants, which suggests that pregnant mothers exposed to air pollution from London’s busy roads are more likely to give birth to babies that are underweight or smaller than they should be.”

(Ryan O’Hare, Imperial College London News, 12/5/17)

Air pollution particles found in mothers’ placentas, new study finds

“Scientists believe they have discovered the first examples of air pollution traveling through the lungs of pregnant women and into their placentas, potentially reaching their fetuses.”

(James Masters, CNN, 9/17/18)

Air Pollution Is Linked to Miscarriages in China, Study Finds

“A new study published on Monday adds to growing evidence of the negative health effects of air pollution on pregnant women and their fetuses.”

(Amy Qin, New York Times, 10/14/19)

Study Links Air Pollution to Increased Risk of Infant Death

“PARENTS HAVE TO MAKE many choices when it comes to raising children, and location may play a larger role in a baby’s health than they realize.

“Babies born into polluted areas could have a 20-50% higher risk of death than babies born in the cleanest areas, according to new research.”

(Cecelia Smith-Schoenwalder, US News and World Report, 9/26/19)

Air pollution tied to high blood pressure for children

“The study found that air pollution is associated with a higher risk of high blood pressure in adults and children.

“Air pollution exposure during pregnancy can also lead to a higher risk of high blood pressure for babies, the study found.”

(Luis Sanchez, The Hill, 5/14/18)

Childhood obesity linked to air pollution from vehicles

“High levels of nitrogen dioxide, which is emitted by diesel engines, in the first year of life led to significantly faster weight gain later, the scientists found. Other pollutants produced by road traffic have also been linked to obesity in children by recent studies.”

(Damian Carrington, The Guardian, 11/4/18)

AIR POLLUTION: U.S. RANKS WORLD’S THIRD WORST IN STUDY ON ASTHMA IN CHILDREN

“About 4 million children develop asthma each year because they breathe in polluted air, with the U.S. ranking third worst in the world when it comes to suffering the burden of minors being exposed to traffic fumes.”

(Kashmira Gander, Newsweek, 4/10/19)

Pollution from busy roads may delay kids’ development

“Children who live near major roads are more likely to score poorly on communication tests and experience development delays, according to a new study.

“The research, published yesterday in the journal Environmental Research, suggests that exposure to traffic-related air pollution—such as small particulate matter (PM2.5) and ozone—in the womb or during early childhood may leave kids lagging in their ability to communicate, socialize and learn.

“‘Our results suggest that it may be prudent to minimize exposure to air pollution during pregnancy, infancy, and early childhood — all key periods for brain development,’” said Pauline Mendola[…]”

(Brian Bienkowski, Environmental Health News, 4/9/19)

How Car Pollution Hurts Kids’ Performance in School

“When students switch to schools downwind of major roads, their test scores fall and their absences increase, according to new research.”

(Nicole Javorsky, CityLab, 2/4/19)

Air pollution is linked to anxiety and suicidal thoughts in children, study finds

“Air pollution may be associated with increased mental health disorders like anxiety and depression in children, a study has found.

“The study, published Wednesday in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal, found that short-term exposure to high ambient air pollution corresponded with a rise in visits to the children’s psychiatric emergency department.”

(Jessie Yeong, CNN, 9/26/19)

Even though the air looks cleaner than it did decades ago, we’ve learned that looks can be deceiving. Modern pollution is more likely to be made up of fine, invisible particles and colorless vapors and fumes rather than dark, smoky soot. After decades of improving air quality in the United States, we’ve let things slip in recent years, resulting in, we discovered yesterday, worsening air pollution. And we’ve reviewed recent research confirming a long list of dangerous health impacts from breathing polluted air in adults and children.

It turns out that “better than it was before” is still not good enough.

Children are parents’ greatest accomplishments. We all need to do better to ensure they have clean air to breathe — inside and outside, from their first breath to their last.

Read previous blog posts about air pollution and children’s health on The PediaBlog here.

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