Exposure to Air Pollution May Impact Children's Cognitive Abilities

Deficits seen in working memory, executive attention after prenatal, early childhood exposure

WEDNESDAY, June 12, 2019 (HealthDay News) -- Early-life exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) is associated with a reduction in fundamental cognitive abilities, according to a study recently published in Environmental Health Perspectives.

Ioar Rivas, Ph.D., from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health in Spain, and colleagues assessed the association between exposure to PM2.5 during different prenatal points and the first seven annual postnatal years and children's cognitive development at school age. In total, 2,221 children participating in the Brain Development and Air Pollution Ultrafine Particles in School Children Project completed computerized tests assessing working memory, attentiveness, and conflict network performance during four visits in 2012 to 2013.

The researchers observed an inverse association between PM2.5 exposure during the fifth and sixth postnatal years and working memory. Boys showed much higher vulnerability. Exposure to higher PM2.5 levels during the prenatal period and from the fourth postnatal year was associated with a reduction in conflict network performance, but there was no association with attentiveness. For an estimated cumulative effect of a 10 µg/m³ increase in PM2.5, there was a reduction in the working memory score and an increase in the conflict attentional network performance.

"This study reinforces our previous findings and confirms that exposure to air pollution at the beginning of life and throughout childhood is a threat to neurodevelopment and an obstacle that prevents children from reaching their full potential," a coauthor said in a statement.

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