Air pollution is giving children anxiety, study finds

A new study has revealed a link between transport-related air pollution and childhood anxiety.

Researchers from the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center studied the brains of 145 children with an average age of 12, looking for levels of myo-inositol, which is a naturally-occurring molecule that regulates hormones and insulin within the body and can indicate stress or anxiety if there are high levels found.

Children who lived in a home fewer than 400m or more than 1500m from a major road (classed as having over 1000 trucks pass through per day) were used for the sample, with neurological tests taking place when the children were 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, and 12 years old.

They found that children who had been exposed to higher levels of transport-related air pollution there were ‘significant’ increases of myo-inositol in the brain due to inflammation, which they believe was caused by air pollution, compared to those with a low exposure.

However, Kelly Brunst, lead researcher from the University of Cincinnati said that the increase in anxiety symptoms in this age group was ‘relatively small’ and not likely to result in a clinical diagnosis.

‘I think it can speak to a bigger impact on population health, that increased exposure to air pollution can trigger the brain’s inflammatory response, as evident by the increases we saw in myo-inositol,’ she added.

‘This may indicate that certain populations are at an increased risk for poorer anxiety outcomes.’

Responding to the study, Jemima Hartshorn, founder of UK-based campaign group Mums for Lungs said: ‘It is very scary to learn that air pollution is not only linked to many illnesses from conception to premature deaths but also causing children to be unhappy and more anxious.

‘It is clear – we need to reduce air pollution immediately, and this requires a significant reduction in road traffic as quickly as possible.

‘Government needs to finally step up and invest in real alternatives – public transport, walking and cycling infrastructure across the country – as well as supporting Clean Air Zones across the country in all pollution hot spots. Children’s health cannot wait.’

Read the study here, which was published in the journal Environmental Research.

There have been several studies in recent months revealing more about the effects of air pollution on the brain and our emotions.

Researchers from Columbia and Harvard revealed that exposure to poor quality air can increase the stress hormone cortisol, which can influence risk perception and increase anxiety, leading to an increase in crime on polluted days.

Another study from MIT found that happiness levels on social media decline during periods of high air pollution.

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