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Air pollution linked to mental health issues among children

Air pollution linked to mental health issues among children. In three separate studies, scientists at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center have identified a link between air pollution and mental health issues among children. 

The most recent study revealed that short-term exposure to air pollution can exacerbate psychiatric disorders in children one to two days later, which was confirmed by increased utilization of the Cincinnati Children’s emergency department for psychiatric issues.

The researchers also found that children living in poor neighborhoods are likely to be more susceptible to the effects of air pollution compared to other children, and may have an elevated risk of anxiety or suicide. 

“This study is the first to show an association between daily outdoor air pollution levels and increased symptoms of psychiatric disorders, like anxiety and suicidality, in children,” said co-lead author Dr. Cole Brokamp. 

“More research is needed to confirm these findings, but it could lead to new prevention strategies for children experiencing symptoms related to a psychiatric disorder. The fact that children living in high poverty neighborhoods experienced greater health effects of air pollution could mean that pollutant and neighborhood stressors can have synergistic effects on psychiatric symptom severity and frequency.”

Cincinnati Children’s researchers had previously identified a link between high traffic related air pollution (TRAP) exposure and generalized anxiety. The study was the first of its kind to use neuroimaging to link TRAP exposure to metabolic disturbances in the brain and generalized anxiety symptoms among otherwise healthy children. 

Led by Dr. Kelly Brunst and Dr. Kim Cecil, the team discovered elevated levels of myoinositol in the brain, which represents the body’s neuroinflammatory response to TRAP.

In a third study, experts led by Dr. Patrick Ryan and Dr. Kimberly Yolton found that early life exposure to TRAP was significantly associated with self-reported symptoms of depression and anxiety among 12-year-olds. 

“Collectively, these studies contribute to the growing body of evidence that exposure to air pollution during early life and childhood may contribute to depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems in adolescence,” said Dr. Ryan. “More research is needed to replicate these findings and uncover underlying mechanisms for these associations.”

The research is published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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Image Credit: Shuttersock/CGN089

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