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Nearby green spaces improve children’s respiratory health

A new study from the European Lung Foundation has revealed that children who live close to green spaces have fewer respiratory problems such as asthma in adulthood. On the other hand, children exposed to air pollution are more prone to respiratory issues later in life.

A large international study known as RHINESSA has been investigating lung health in children and adults in seven European countries, focusing on exposure to residential green spaces and air pollution from the time of birth into adulthood.

Dr. Ingrid Nordeide Kuiper of Haukeland University Hospital and colleagues analyzed RHINESSA greenness data that involved 5,415 participants between the ages of 18 and 52 and air pollution data that involved 4,414 participants in the same age group.

The team looked at how many individuals suffered from more than three respiratory symptoms, such as chest wheezing or whistling, breathlessness when wheezing, wheezing or whistling without a cold, a tight chest when waking, or an asthma attack.

The researchers calculated the average annual exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which was estimated from birth until age 18. The experts also calculated annual average exposure to “greenness” in a 100-meter zone around the home address during the same time frame.

“These are preliminary results, but we found that exposure to greenness during childhood was associated with fewer respiratory symptoms in adulthood, while exposure to air pollutants in childhood was associated with more respiratory symptoms in adulthood and with late onset asthma,” said Dr. Kuiper.

The results varied across the different countries examined in the RHINESSA study. In Bergen, for example, exposure to PM2.5 and NO2 increased the likelihood of late onset asthma by up to 22 percent, while exposure to PM10 increased the likelihood of respiratory symptoms by 21 percent in Uppsala and by 23 percent in Bergen.

In Tartu, living close to a green space before the age of ten was associated with a 71-percent lower probability of wheeze. Living close to a green space between the ages of 11 and 18 was associated with a 29-percent lower probability of respiratory symptoms and a 39-percent lower probability of wheeze.

“We need to analyze these findings further before drawing any definite conclusions. However, it is likely that our findings will substantially expand our knowledge on the long-term effects of air pollution and greenness, enabling physicians, scientists and policy-makers to see the importance of exposure to pollution and access to green spaces, and helping to improve public health,” said Dr. Kuiper.

“We will be conducting further analyses that include more centers that are taking part in the RHINESSA study, and we also want to expand analyses to look at the effects of exposure to air pollution and greenness across generations.”

“We believe that our results, seen together with previous results, will be of particular value for city planners and policy-makers; with increasing population density in the years to come it will be vital to include a decrease in air pollution exposures and an increase in access to green spaces in future city plans and societal regulations.”

The research was presented at the European Respiratory Society International Congress 2018.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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