Air pollution’s dual threat: poor mental health and heart disease

Research presented at ESC Preventive Cardiology, a scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology, today links air pollution with stress and depression, which is putting people under 65 at increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease

The study covered 3,047 US counties, representing 315,720,938 residents. Between 2013 and 2019,  1,079,656 of those resident died from cardiovascular disease before the age of 65 . 

man in gray dress shirt

To conduct the study, county-level data on annual PM2.5 levels were obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and exposure was categorised as high or low according to WHO standards.

The researchers gathered data on the average number of days that county residents experienced mental health issues—including stress, depression, and emotional problems, also from the CDC.

Each county was then categorised into three groups based on these numbers, with counties in the top third reporting the most days of poor mental health (PMH) and age-adjusted premature cardiovascular mortality rates (under 65 years of age) per county, were obtained from the CDC.

It was found that counties with high concentrations  of PM2.5 were 10% more likely to report high levels of poor mental health days compared to counties with  low concentrations. That risk was also found to be greater in counties with a high prevalence of minority groups or poverty.

The link between poor mental health and premature cardiovascular mortality was strongest in counties which breached the WHO recommended levels. In these counties, higher levels of poor mental health were associated with a three-fold increase in premature cardiovascular mortality. 

The study lead author Dr. Shady Abohashem of Harvard Medical School, Boston said: ‘Our study indicates that the air we breathe affects our mental well-being, which in turn impacts heart health.

‘Our results reveal a dual threat from air pollution: it not only worsens mental health but also significantly amplifies the risk of heart-related deaths associated with poor mental health. Public health strategies are urgently needed to address both air quality and mental wellbeing in order to preserve cardiovascular health.’




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