Health & Science

Air Pollution Is Leading To Mental Health Problems In Kids

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The mental health of our children is a hot button topic in the news and on social media. As parents, we’re extra cautious about what may or may not be helping our children’s mental state. We’ve been told that social media and bullying can undoubtedly play a role, but what about our environment?

It turns out, air pollution is harming more than our respiratory systems.

Scientists at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and researchers at Cincinnati University in Ohio conducted three new studies that add pollution to the ever-growing list of things that may influence our children’s mental health. The study showed that traffic-related air pollution increased anxiety and mental health-related hospital visits for kids. The visits occurred just one to two days after brief exposure to atmospheric pollution.

Cole Brokamp PhD and Patrick Ryan PhD, both researchers in Cincinnati Children’s Division of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, found that disadvantaged youth were at an even higher risk for mental health disruptions. “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,” Dr. Brokamp explains. In short, air pollution added to other stresses from their environment may compound to make symptoms worse.

Dr. Brokamp further reports, “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.” 

Hopefully, studies like these will bring awareness, and ultimately action to improve environmental factors.

Short of selling their homes and moving 75 miles from a traffic light, what can parents do? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a list of common ideas like carpooling whenever possible and riding a bike. They also offer ideas like deferring lawn work that uses gasoline-powered devices until absolutely necessary. A helpful tool on the EPA website is the Air Quality Guide for Particle Pollution. This document not only gives information on air pollution but illustrates how to identify at-risk areas and populations.

Families can also focus on the efforts being made to improve our planet and join in the fight. Last week students around the world marched in #ClimateStrike protesting governments’ lack of initiative on climate change. Over 250,000 people gathered in New York, where Battery Park was ultimately closed because of the crowd size. The #ClimateStrike initiative was largely led by teens, including child-activist Greta Thunberg. An initiative to make the world a better place led by the adults of our future… you can’t get much more hopeful than that.

Jessica Watson is a freelance writer, author and the blogger behind Four Plus an Angel. Mom to five kids, four in her arms and one in her heart, she tries hard to enjoy them every moment but sometimes dreams of a week alone with a pile of her favorite books. "Four Plus an Angel" -