How air and noise pollution in childhood affects mental health: a 25-year study

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Last reviewed: 14.06.2024

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31 May 2024, 13:26

In a recent study published in JAMA Network Open, researchers examined the effects of exposure to noise and air pollution during pregnancy and early childhood on the mental health of people aged 13 to 24 years old. In particular, the study focused on depression, anxiety and psychotic episodes.

The results showed that increased exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) during pregnancy and childhood is associated with a higher risk of developing depression and psychotic symptoms.

In addition, high levels of noise pollution during childhood and adolescence have been associated with increased levels of anxiety. This study highlights the significant impact of early exposure to pollution on youth mental health.

The study, "Early Life Exposure to Air and Noise Pollution and Mental Health from Adolescence to Adulthood," highlights the importance of this issue.

The aim of this study was to address existing gaps using high-resolution pollution data associated with a longitudinal cohort study, focusing on depression, anxiety and psychotic experiences, to improve understanding of how early life exposure to pollution affects mental health from adolescence to adulthood.

Air pollution data collection used ELAPSE models and UK Government noise pollution maps to collect high-resolution data on air pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and PM2.5.

The study involved 9,065 people with a mean age of 24.5 years at follow-up, 51.4% of whom were women, and 95.8% of whom belonged to the White ethnic group.

Mental health data showed that 19.5% of participants reported psychotic episodes, 11.4% reported depression, and 9.7% reported anxiety.

Higher exposure to PM2.5 during pregnancy and childhood has been associated with increased odds of psychotic experiences. Exposure to PM2.5 during pregnancy was also correlated with higher levels of depression.

On the other hand, exposure to noise pollution during childhood and adolescence was associated with higher anxiety.

The results highlight the importance of early life pollution exposure on mental health, suggesting that interventions aimed at reducing noise and air pollution can improve the mental health of young people. Sensitivity analyzes confirmed the robustness of these findings.

In this longitudinal cohort study spanning approximately 25 years, early life exposure to PM2.5 during pregnancy and childhood was associated with increased psychotic experiences and depression.

In addition, noise pollution during childhood and adolescence has been associated with increased anxiety. These associations remained significant after controlling for a variety of potential confounders, highlighting the importance of early life environmental exposure on mental health.

Compared with previous studies, this study highlights the particularly harmful effects of prenatal and early childhood air pollution on mental health, in contrast to findings associated with adult exposure.

The study is also consistent with existing evidence on the effects of noise pollution on anxiety, highlighting the role of stress and sleep disturbances.

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