Don’t Play in Traffic!

Air pollution weakens lung development in children

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Most parents don’t like the idea of their children breathing in dirty air, but might not know whether or not it has long term consequences. Unfortunately, it does.

New research shows that babies’ exposure to car exhaust affects how well their lungs work when they are eight years old.

The researchers found that the more the children in the study had been exposed to traffic-related air pollution when they were babies, the lower their lung function was at eight years old.

"Ensure your baby breathes clean air."

Erica S. Schultz, MD, of the Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden, and colleagues led the study to determine the relationship between children’s exposure to traffic-related air pollution and their lung health.

Researchers analyzed data from 1,924 children from a large-scale Swedish study that recruited newborns to participate between 1994 and 1996. They were followed until they were eight years old.

During the study period, the children’s caretakers answered questionnaires about the child’s respiratory health, allergies and what their environmental exposures had been. These were done at ages one, two, four and eight.

When they turned eight, researchers measured how much air they could breathe into their lungs and how quickly. Blood samples were taken to determine their immunoglobulin E levels, which can indicate allergies.

Using the addresses the caretakers provided for their houses and the children’s daycare and school locations, the researchers measured outdoor air quality to estimate how much air pollution the children were exposed to.

The researchers measured the children's lung function using a standard assessment called "forced expiratory volume."

The children blow into a machine allowing the researchers can measure how much air they can exhale in one second.

The greater the outdoor exposure to pollution in the air from road traffic, the more the children's ability decreased.

Boys and children with asthma or other allergies showed the strongest effect from the early air pollution exposure.

The data indicated that air pollution had the biggest affect on children’s lung health if they were exposed to it in their first year of life.

"Our study shows that early exposure to traffic-related air pollution has long-term adverse effects on respiratory health in children,” said co-author Göran Pershagen, MD, PhD, professor at the Karolinska Institutet Institute of Environmental Medicine in Stockholm, Sweden, especially if they were prone to allergies.

"These results add to a large body of evidence demonstrating the detrimental effects of air pollution on human health," he said.

The findings were published online on October 12 in the American Thoracic Society's American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

The research was funded by Swedish Research Council FORMAS, the Swedish Heart– Lung Foundation, Stiftelsen Frimurare Barnhuset i Stockholm, the Stockholm County Council and the Swedish Asthma and Allergy Association Research Foundation.

The Swedish Foundation for Health Care Sciences and Allergy Research, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, and the Swedish Institute also contributed funding.

There were no conflicts of interest reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 29, 2012
Last Updated:
October 31, 2012