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Early exposure to air pollution linked with poor mental health as adult: Study

Air pollution during pregnancy and childhood linked to increased risk of depression, psychosis in youth. Study suggests reducing pollution exposure could improve mental health.

Written By: Rahul Pratyush @29_pratyush New Delhi Published on: May 30, 2024 9:17 IST
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Image Source : VECTEEZY Early exposure to air pollution linked with poor mental health as adult: Study

New research suggests that children who are exposed to air pollution may face an increased risk of mental health issues such as depression and psychosis during their youth. The study investigated the lasting impacts of exposure to air and noise pollution during different stages of development, including in the womb, early childhood, and adolescence.

The impact of three prevalent mental health conditions—anxiety, depression, and psychosis, characterised by detachment from reality and possible hallucinations—was examined. A study, spearheaded by the University of Bristol, UK, revealed that with every 0.72 micrograms per cubic meter rise in PM2.5 air pollutants during pregnancy, the likelihood of psychosis rose by 11per cent and depression by 10 per cent.

The likelihood of experiencing psychosis later in life was discovered to rise by 9 per cent when exposed to similar conditions during childhood, according to research published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network Open.

"This is a major concern, because air pollution is now such a common exposure, and rates of mental health problems are increasing globally,” the study said.

"Given that pollution is also a preventable exposure, interventions to reduce exposure, such as low emissions zones, could potentially improve mental health," said lead author Joanne Newbury from the University of Bristol.

Exposure to pollution could be rapidly reduced by making targeted interventions available for vulnerable groups, including pregnant women and children, Newbury said.

The study involved examining information from more than 9,000 individuals who are part of the Children of the 90s birth cohort, established in Bristol. This cohort originally comprised over 14,000 expectant mothers recruited in 1991 and 1992, and both the mothers and their children have been continuously monitored since then.

The researchers compared the participants' mental health reports when they were 13, 18 and 24 years old against outdoor air and noise pollution in Bristol at those points in time.

"An increase of 0.72 micrograms per cubic centimetre in PM2.5 levels during pregnancy and during childhood were associated with elevated odds for psychotic experiences.

Pregnancy PM2.5 exposure was also associated with depression," the authors wrote.

Further, being exposed to higher noise pollution in childhood and teenage was linked with raising the chances of anxiety by 19 per cent and 22 per cent, respectively.

"Childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood are critical periods for the development of psychiatric disorders: worldwide, nearly two-thirds of those affected become unwell by the age of 25.

"Our findings add to a growing body of evidence - from different populations, locations, and using different study designs - suggesting a detrimental impact of air pollution (and potentially noise pollution) on mental health," said Newbury.

The findings, by themselves, do not prove cause-and-effect relationships. However, other recent studies have shown that areas with low emissions appear to impact mental health positively, the authors said.

(with PTI inputs)

ALSO READ: Swapping meat with veggies, fruits can lower carbon emissions by a quarter: Study

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