This is how air pollution is directly linked to brain development, according to Canadian University researchers

Beginning in 2014, the team hired 540 pregnant women in Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar to participate in the Ulaanbaatar Gestation and Air Pollution Research (UGAAR) study considering the city has some of the worst air quality in the world, well-exceeding the guidelines set by the World Health Organization (WHO).

ANIUpdated: Wednesday, June 22, 2022, 03:16 PM IST
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Washington: According to findings of a study, which were published in the journal 'Environmental Health Perspectives', conducted by researchers from Canadian institution Simon Fraser University, having a portable air cleaner at home can lead to a reduction of the impact of air pollution on children's brain development.

The researchers, who collaborated with U.S. and Mongolian scientists, studied the benefits of using air filters to reduce exposure to air pollution during pregnancy and also analysed the impact it has on children's intelligence.

The researchers remarked that their randomised controlled trial is the first study of its kind to understand the impact of air pollution reduction on cognition in children.

Origins of the research

Beginning in 2014, the team hired 540 pregnant women in Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar to participate in the Ulaanbaatar Gestation and Air Pollution Research (UGAAR) study considering the city has some of the worst air quality in the world, well-exceeding the guidelines set by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The criteria of participants required women to be less than 18 weeks into their pregnancies and non-smokers who had not used air filtering devices in their homes previously. They were randomly assigned to either the control or intervention group. The intervention group was provided with one or two HEPA filter air cleaners and encouraged to use the air cleaners continuously for the duration of their pregnancies. The air cleaners were removed from the home once the child was born.

How the researchers assessed children

The researchers later assessed the children's full-scale intelligence quotient (FSIQ) at four years of age using the Weschler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence.

It was found that the children born to mothers who had used the air cleaners had an average FSIQ that was 2.8-points higher than the group that did not use an air cleaner during pregnancy.

"These results, combined with evidence from previous studies, strongly insinuate air pollution as a threat to brain development," says Ryan Allen, professor of environmental health in SFU's Faculty of Health Sciences. "But the good news is that reducing exposure has clear benefits."

Children in the intervention group also had significantly greater average verbal comprehension index scores, which is consistent with results from previous observational studies. The research suggests that a child's verbal skills may be particularly sensitive to air pollution exposure.

The study provides a clear connection between air pollution and cognitive development

Around 90 percent of the world's population breathes air with particulate matter concentrations above the WHO guidelines. The researchers suggest the population-level impact of air pollution on brain development could be substantive even if the individual-level effects are modest.

Their study results indicate that reducing exposure to air pollution during pregnancy could improve children's cognitive development around the world.

"Air pollution is everywhere, and it is preventing children from reaching their full potential," adds Allen. "Air cleaners may provide some protection, but ultimately the only way to protect all children is to reduce emissions."

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