Small Spikes In Air Pollution Have A Direct Impact On The Mental Health Of Children, New Study Shows

A new study shows that even very small spikes in air pollution can directly affect the mental health of children and lead to an increase in hospital visits for psychiatric issues, according to EcoWatch:

“According to the study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, short-term spikes in ambient air pollution are linked with an increase in hospital visits for childhood psychiatric issues. Also, children in low-income neighborhoods with poor access to healthcare appeared to be more susceptible to the mental health effects of air pollution.”

The study was conducted by the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and focused on particulate matter known as PM 2.5, which is produced by fossil fuel-powered vehicles, power plants, cooking, dust, and brush fires. PM 2.5 is easily inhaled and winds up in the organs and bloodstream of humans, often leading to inflammation of the lungs and brain. Long-term exposure is believed to lead to cancer and heart attacks.

Research used in the study was conducted at the Cincinnati Children’s emergency psychiatric unit:

“The researchers looked at more than 13,000 visits by children … and compared it with data on the concentrations of PM 2.5 where they live. “Results showed that spikes in PM 2.5 concentration were associated with increased childhood psychiatric visits one or two days later for adjustment disorder, anxiety and suicidal thoughts, while same-day visits were usually related to schizophrenia.

“All daily exposures to PM 2.5 in the study were below levels set in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards, researchers said.”

The results of the study are both dramatic and frightening:

  • Spikes in air pollution increased the risk of hospitalization for suicidal thoughts by 44 percent.
  • The risk for children from disadvantaged areas was almost double the 44 percent rate.
  • Children living in disadvantaged children were also 39 percent more likely to require treatment for anxiety.

Lead study author Cole Brokamp noted:

“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.”

Though the current study only examined the effects of PM 2.5, it bolsters previous research Cincinnati Children’s which showed that exposure to air pollution may well play a role in a host of mental health issues found in children:

“In May, researchers at the Cincinnati Children’s published a study in Environmental Research showing a link between increased exposure to high traffic related air pollution (TRAP) and generalized anxiety. Another study published in June found that exposure to TRAP shortly in early childhood was linked with symptoms of anxiety and depression in 12-year-olds.”

Dr. Patrick Ryan, who also took part in the study, said the results of this and other medical research prove a link between air pollution and childhood mental health issues:

“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.”

Featured Image Via Wikimedia Commons 


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Andrew Bradford

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