Researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Cincinnati, have underscored the link between air pollution and mental health in children in a series of three new studies.
One of the studies published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives demonstrated that short-term exposure to environmental air pollution was related to worsening of symptoms of psychiatric disorders in children one to two days later, as marked by increased use of the emergency department for psychiatric issues in Cincinnati Children’s.
The study also revealed that children living in underprivileged localities may be more prone to the effects of air pollution in comparison with other children, especially for disorders related to anxiety and sui**dality.
The above study was led by Cole Brokamp, PhD, and Patrick Ryan, PhD, researchers in the division of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at Cincinnati Children’s. According to the Dr Brokamp, “This study is the first to show an association between daily outdoor air pollution levels and increased symptoms of psychiatric disorders, like anxiety and sui**dality, in children. 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 previous studies by researchers from Cincinnati Children’s have also linked air pollution to children’s mental health. Published in the journal Environmental Research, the study led by Kelly Brunst, PhD, a researcher in the department of Environmental Health at the University of Cincinnati, and Kim Cecil, PhD, a researcher at Cincinnati Children’s, found a relation 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 relate TRAP exposure, metabolic disturbances in the brain, and generalized anxiety symptoms among otherwise healthy children. Higher myoinositol concentrations in the brain—a marker of the brain’s neuroinflammatory response to TRAP was observed.
Another study, also published in Environmental Research, and led by Kimberly Yolton, PhD, director of research in the division of General and Community Pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s, and Dr. Ryan revealed that exposure to TRAP during early life and across childhood was significantly linked with self-reported depression and anxiety symptoms in 12-year-olds. Similar findings have been reported in adults too, but research demonstrating 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,” states Dr Ryan. “More research is needed to replicate these findings and uncover underlying mechanisms for these associations.”
Reference: Cole Brokamp, Jeffrey R. Strawn, Andrew F. Beck, Patrick Ryan. Pediatric Psychiatric Emergency Department Utilization and Fine Particulate Matter: A Case-Crossover Study. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2019; 127 (9): 097006 DOI: 10.1289/ehp4815