Children exposed to high levels of air pollution are more likely to have poor academic skills in early adolescence, according to researchers at the University of Columbia.
The researchers collected prenatal air pollution data for 200 children during the third trimester of pregnancy, a period when the foetus is highly vulnerable to environmental impacts.
They then conducted tests of academic achievement when the children reached the age of 13.
The authors found that children exposed to elevated levels of air pollution may be more likely to have poor academic skills in early adolescence. This included spelling, reading comprehension and maths skills.
They also found that difficulty with inhibition was a precursor to later air pollution-related academic problems.
Children with poor inhibitory control are less able to override a common response in favour of a more unusual one – such as the natural response to say ‘up’ when an arrow is facing up or ‘go’ when a light is green—and instead say ‘down’ or ‘stop.’
Amy Margolis, PhD, associate professor of medical psychology and lead author of the study said: ‘When evaluating student’s learning problems and formulating treatment plans, parents and teachers should consider that academic problems related to environmental exposures may require intervention focused on inhibitory control problems, rather than on content-related skill deficits, as is typical in interventions designed to address learning disabilities.’
Co-author Julie Herbstman added: ‘This study adds to a growing body of literature showing the deleterious health effects of prenatal exposure to air pollution on child health outcomes, including academic achievement.
‘Reducing levels of air pollution may prevent these adverse outcomes and lead to improvements in children’s academic achievement.’
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