Under the Hood

Air Pollution Effects Could Make Children Suicidal, Researchers Say

Taking kids to the park is a good way to bond with them while enjoying the fresh air. But not when you are in an area with polluted air. 

A new study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, shows that exposure to air pollution could trigger psychiatric disorders in children. What makes the findings more alarming is that even short-term exposure could contribute to their anxiety and increase their risk of being suicidal.

"This study is the first to show an association between daily outdoor air pollution levels and increased symptoms of psychiatric disorders, like anxiety and suicidality, in children," Cole Brokamp, lead study author and researcher at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, said in a statement

In the study, children started to experience changes in their mental health one to two days after exposure to polluted air. The kids living in disadvantaged neighborhoods were greatly affected by poor air quality. 

Brokamp said neighborhood stressors potentially contributed to their increased risk of psychiatric disorders. The findings are supported by two other recent studies that explored the effects of air pollution in children. 

One study, published in the journal Environmental Research, showed that children developed anxiety after high exposure to traffic-related air pollution. Researchers used neuroimaging to analyze air exposure, metabolic disturbances in the participants’ brain and their symptoms of generalized anxiety. 

The kids exposed to the polluted air had high myo-inositol concentrations in their brain, a marker of neuroinflammatory response to air pollution. 

Another research in Environmental Research expanded the understanding of researchers. It showed that traffic-related air pollution starts to affect the mental health of children early in life and continues through childhood. 

Researchers said participants still reported depression and symptoms of anxiety when they reached the age of 12. Previous studies suggested the effects of air pollution may continue through adulthood. 

"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," Patrick Ryan, study author and researcher at Cincinnati Children's, said.

But he noted more studies are needed to confirm their findings. Future efforts should also determine how air pollution directly contributes to psychiatric disorders.

Air Pollution Indian make their way along a path amidst smog and fog conditions during a cold morning in Faridabad on February 6, 2019. Minnesota officials found that manufacturing company Water Gremlin has been leaking cancer-linked chemical into the air for a decade or more. Money Sharma/AFP/Getty Images

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