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Air Pollution May Impact Kids’ Mental Health

Emerging research suggests air pollution may be linked to a variety of mental health issues in children. Three new studies by scientists at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Cincinnati, highlight the relationship between air pollution and mental health in children.

One study found that short-term exposure to ambient air pollution was associated with exacerbations of psychiatric disorders in children one to two days later. This was determined by increased utilization of the Cincinnati Children’s emergency department for psychiatric issues.

The study, which appears in Environmental Health Perspectives, also found that children living in disadvantaged neighborhoods may be more susceptible to the effects of air pollution compared to other children, especially for disorders related to anxiety and suicidality.

The lead authors of this study Cole Brokamp, Ph.D., and Patrick Ryan, Ph.D. are researchers in the division of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at Cincinnati Children’s.

“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,” said Brokamp.

“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.”

Two other Cincinnati Children’s studies were recently published that also link air pollution to children’s mental health. In a study published in Environmental Research, researchers found a link between recent high traffic related air pollution (TRAP) exposure and higher generalized anxiety.

This study is believed to be the first to use neuroimaging to link TRAP exposure, metabolic disturbances in the brain, and generalized anxiety symptoms among otherwise healthy children. Investigators discovered higher myoinositol concentrations in the brain, a marker of the brain’s neuroinflammatory response to TRAP.

One additional study found in the journal Environmental Research, found that exposure to TRAP during early life and across childhood was significantly associated with self-reported depression and anxiety symptoms in 12-year-olds.

Similar findings have been reported in adults, but research showing clear connections between TRAP exposure and mental health in children has been limited.

“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,” Ryan said.

“More research is needed to replicate these findings and uncover underlying mechanisms for these associations.”

Source: University of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital

Air Pollution May Impact Kids’ Mental Health

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2019). Air Pollution May Impact Kids’ Mental Health. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 26 Sep 2019 (Originally: 26 Sep 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 26 Sep 2019
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