Both prenatal and postnatal exposure to air pollution can harm children, particularly behaviourally, a study looking at the data of 1967 pregnant mothers from eight cities found.
The research showed that children whose mothers experienced higher nitrogen dioxide (NO2) exposure during pregnancy, particularly in the first and second trimester, were more likely to have behavioural problems.
Researchers also reported that higher exposures to small-particle air pollution (PM2.5) when children were two to four years old was associated with poorer child behavioural functioning and cognitive performance.
More specifically, the researchers found that exposure to PM2.5 pollution was generally associated with more behavioural problems in girls than in boys, and that the adverse effect of PM2.5 exposure in the second trimester on IQ was stronger in boys.
Senior author Dr Catherine Karr, a professor at the University of Washington School of Public Health and School of Medicine, said: ‘This study reinforces the unique vulnerability of children to air pollution – both in fetal life where major organ development and function occur, as well as into childhood when those processes continue. These early life perturbations can have lasting impacts on lifelong brain function.’
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