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ADHD

13 May 2019

Living near major roads can slow kids' development, study finds

The results of a new study suggest that that it may be prudent to minimise exposure to air pollution during pregnancy, infancy and early childhood – all key periods for brain development.

Living near a major road may significantly increase a young child's risk of developmental delays, a new study claims.

It also found that children whose mothers were exposed during pregnancy to high levels of specific types of traffic-related air pollution had slightly higher odds of developmental delays.

"Our results suggest that it may be prudent to minimise exposure to air pollution during pregnancy, infancy and early childhood - all key periods for brain development," said senior study author Pauline Mendola. She's an investigator with the US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, part of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The researchers analysed data from more than 5 800 children whose development was screened every four to six months between the ages of 8 months and 36 months.

The screenings assessed small and large motor skills, communication, personal social functioning and problem-solving ability.

Compared to kids who lived more than a half-mile (more than 800m) from a major road, those who lived within a third of a mile were twice as likely to fail at least one screening of communication development.

Children born to mothers who were exposed to elevated levels of traffic-related fine particle pollution during pregnancy had a 1.6% to 2.7% higher risk of failing any developmental measure. Exposure during pregnancy to elevated ozone levels was associated with a 0.7% to 1.7% greater risk.

Higher exposure to ozone after birth was linked to a 3.3% higher risk of failing most developmental measures at 8 months; a 17.7% higher risk at 24 months; and a 7.6% higher risk at 30 months.

"It is not clear why exposure to pollutants after birth is linked to a higher risk of developmental delay," said study lead author Sandie Ha, an assistant professor of public health at the University of California, Merced.

"However, unlike exposure during pregnancy, exposure during childhood is more direct and does not go through a pregnant woman's defenses," she noted in an NIH news release.

While this study only found an association between proximity to roads and developmental delays, previous studies have linked air pollution exposure during pregnancy with low birthweight, preterm birth and stillbirth. Some studies also have found that children who live near freeways have a greater risk of autism and lower mental functioning.

A large percentage of the US population lives close to major roadways.

The study was published in April in the journal Environmental Research.

Image credit: iStock

 

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ADHD Expert

Dr Renata Schoeman has been in full-time private practice as a general psychiatrist (child, adolescent and adult psychiatry) since 2008, currently based in Oude Westhof (Bellville). Renata also holds appointments as senior lecturer in Leadership (USB) and as a virtual faculty member of USB Executive Development’s Neuroleadership programme. She serves on the advisory boards of various pharmaceutical companies, as a director of the Psychiatric Management Group (PsychMG) and is the co-convenor of the South African Society of Psychiatrist (SASOP) special interest group for adult ADHD, and co-founder of the Goldilocks and The Bear Foundation (www.gb4adhd.co.za) She is passionate about corporate mental health awareness and uses her neuroscience background to assist leaders in equipping them to become balanced, healthy and dynamic leaders that take their own and their team’s emotional, intellectual, social health and physical needs into account. Renata is academically active and enjoys research and collaborative work, has published in many peer-reviewed journals, and has presented at local and international congresses. She is regularly invited to present at conferences and to engage with the media. During her post-graduate studies, she trained at Harvard, Boston in neurocognition and neuroimaging. Her awards include, amongst others, the Young Minds in Psychiatry award from the American Psychiatric Association, the Discovery Foundation Fellowship award, a Thuthuka award from the NRF, and a MRC Fellowship. She also received the Top MBA student award and the Director’s award from USB for 2015. She was a finalist for the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa’s Businesswoman of the Year Award for 2016, and received the Excellence in Media Work award from SASOP during 2016.

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