Air pollution exposure during pregnancy affects children’s lung function in early years

"It's really important to prioritize reduction of air pollution levels to improve respiratory health."


Another study has shown more negative health impacts of air pollution particles crossing the placenta and affecting children even before they are born.

Research published by the Center for Environment Health and Sustainability (CESH) at the University of Leicester found that exposure to air pollution from road traffic during pregnancy reduces children’s lung function at the age eight.

The data is a result of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) a large long-term study of over 14,000 children born in the former country of Avon between 1991 and 1992. The Avon study is the largest study to date that looks at the impacts of particulate matter PM10 from different pollutive sources, such as road traffic, on lung development.

Researchers on the study analyzed by each trimester of pregnancy as well as during childhood. They found that exposure to air traffic even in just the first trimester of pregnancy leads to small but significant reductions in children’s lung function.

“Our findings suggest that air pollution in pregnancy and early life has important impacts on lung function in early childhood; it may affect children’s development and potentially also their long-term health trajectory,” said Anna Hansell, Professor of Environmental Epidemiology and Director of CESH.

Associations between exposure to road traffic and lung function were stronger among boys and children whose mother had a lower education level or smoked during pregnancy.

Although researchers found a positive association with air pollution exposure and children’s lung function, it isn’t entirely clear how one affects the other. Researchers said that one possibility could be that particles cross the placenta and are able to disturb a fetus’s lung development. Another possibility is that prenatal exposure could induce changes in gene function without changes in DNA sequences.

“It’s really important to prioritize reduction of air pollution levels to improve respiratory health,” concluded Hansell. “In separate work, we have also shown associations with lower lung function in adulthood, suggesting that air pollution contributes to the aging of the lungs. Lung health is a marker of general health and associated with numerous other chronic diseases.”


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