Air Pollution May Affect Cognitive Development in Children

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Exposure to traffic-related air pollution can adversely affect the cognitive development of young children, according to a study out of Spain.

Those who attended schools in high pollution areas showed less cognitive development over time compared to children of similar socio-economic background that attended lowly polluted schools, the researchers found.

Researchers from the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology (CREAL) measured cognitive outcomes across three categories — working memory, superior working memory, and attentiveness — every three months over a 12-month period in 2,715 primary school children from 39 schools in Barcelona.

Over 12 months, there was an 11.5% increase in working memory observed in the children attending lowly polluted schools, and only a 7.4% increase in the children attending highly polluted schools. The data remained the same even after adjusting for additional factors that can affect cognitive development.

The findings suggest that air pollutants can affect brain development well into middle childhood, and could have implications for environmental regulations as well as the locations of schools. The researchers did note that their findings may be limited by other confounding factors regarding unknown shared characteristics among the children who attend schools in highly polluted areas. 

Air Pollution May Affect Cognitive Development in Children

Attendance at schools exposed to high levels of traffic-related air pollution is linked to slower cognitive development among 7-10-year-old children in Barcelona, according to a study published by Jordi Sunyer and colleagues from the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology (CREAL), Spain, published in this week's PLOS Medicine.

The researchers measured three cognitive outcomes (working memory, superior working memory, and attentiveness) every 3 months over a 12-month period in 2715 primary school children attending 39 schools. By comparing the development of these cognitive outcomes in the children attending schools where exposure to air pollution was high to those children attending a school with a similar socio-economic index where exposure to pollution was low, they were able to observe a difference in cognitive development.

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