As the conversation surrounding air pollution continues to grow, research has now discovered the worrying effect levels can have on the mental health of our children.
Research by a joint British/American study, have found those who grow up surrounded by heavy traffic pollution have higher rates of mental illness by the age of 18.
New research has found a link between the exposure to nitrogen oxides and particulate matter in childhood, and the development of mental health throughout later life.
Anxiety, depression and even more psychoactive conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease have all been linked with high levels of air pollution.
What does the research show?
A 25-year study was conducted between British and American professors, to determine what the growing levels of air pollution were doing to the human body – and mind.
Studying over 2,000 twin children from England and Wales – born between 1994 and 1995 – health professionals monitored their mental health levels, and checked-in again when the children were turning 18.
“The results we captured, showed children who were persistently exposed to moderate levels of nitrogen oxide air pollution, experienced greater overall liability to psychiatric illness by young adulthood,” explained the authors.
“The link between air pollution and the risk of developing a mental health illness is modest, but very real,” they added.
Air pollution is very much a silent, non-visual danger. So much so, many people often don’t take into consideration just how low the quality of air is that they breathe on a regular basis.
Children and families living within more built-up, urban environments without a doubt are breathing more polluted air, due to the higher levels of traffic, for example.
Although many local authorities continue to campaign for greener spaces, it is clear, not enough is being done.
Measuring mental health and air pollution
Leading the study, was Dr Helen Fisher of the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London.
Using an assessment of symptoms, she measured the mental health of the children participating in the study. Looking at ADHD, anxiety and alcohol dependence to name but a few common psychiatric disorders, the results were astonishing.
Those who scored a higher psychopathology factor were displaying more symptoms of mental illness. Children exposed to the highest levels of nitrogen oxides, scored 2.62 points higher on than their peers in the bottom three quartiles.
Speaking to The Guardian, Deputy Chief Executive of the Centre for Mental Health ThinkTank, Andy Bell, said: “We know from research that out mental health is determined by the lives we lead and the environments we’re in.
“While poverty, racism, trauma and exclusion are major risks to mental health, today’s research shows our physical environment matters too.
“We must make places safer, cleaner and healthier to live in if we are to experience lifelong benefits.”
The World Health Organisation has already identified poor quality air levels as an aggravating factor for poor heart and lung health, as well as negative effects on the central nervous system.
Nine out of ten people – worldwide – are exposed to high levels of pollution.
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