Early life exposure to air pollution linked to hyperactivity

Last Updated: May 22, 2013, 14:17 PM IST

Washington: A new research found that early-life exposure to traffic-related air pollution was significantly associated with higher hyperactivity scores at age 7.

The research was conducted by faculty members from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine`s Department of Environmental Health in collaboration with Cincinnati Children`s Hospital Medical Center.

"There is increasing concern about the potential effects of traffic-related air pollution on the developing brain. This impact is not fully understood due to limited epidemiological studies," said Nicholas Newman, DO, director of the Paediatric Environmental Health and Lead Clinic at Cincinnati Children`s, who was the study`s first author.

"To our knowledge, this is the largest prospective cohort with the longest follow-up investigating early life exposure to traffic-related air pollution and neurobehavioral outcomes at school age," he added.

Scientists believe that early life exposures to a variety of toxic substances are important in the development of problems later in life.

Newman and his colleagues collected data on traffic-related air pollution (TRAP) from the Cincinnati Childhood Allergy and Air Pollution Study (CCAAPS), a long-term epidemiological study examining the effects of traffic particulates on childhood respiratory health and allergy development.

Funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, CCAAPS is led by Grace LeMasters, PhD, of the environmental health department. Study participants-newborns in the Cincinnati metropolitan area from 2001 through 2003-were chosen based on family history and their residence being either near or far from a major highway or bus route.

Children were followed from infancy to age 7, when parents completed the Behavioural Assessment System for Children, 2nd Edition (BASC-2), assessing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and related symptoms including attention problems, aggression, conduct problems and atypical behaviour. Of the 762 children initially enrolled in the study, 576 were included in the final analysis at 7 years of age.

Results showed that children who were exposed to the highest third amount of TRAP during the first year of life were more likely to have hyperactivity scores in the "at risk" range when they were 7 years old. The "at risk" range for hyperactivity in children means that they need to be monitored carefully because they are at risk for developing clinically important symptoms.

"Several biological mechanisms could explain the association between hyperactive behaviours and traffic-related air pollution," Newman said, including narrowed blood vessels in the body and toxicity in the brain`s frontal cortex.

Newman noted that the higher air pollution exposure was associated with a significant increase in hyperactivity only among those children whose mothers had greater than a high school education. Mothers with higher education may expect higher achievement, he said, affecting the parental report of behavioural concerns.

The finding is detailed in a paper being published in Environmental Health Perspectives, a peer-reviewed open access journal published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, an institute within the National Institutes of Health (NIH).