Impact of air pollution on child obesity

A new study published by the University of Southern California said the first year of life is vital.  Josh Barrie explains in an article on the inews website.

How air pollution causes obesity: advice to parents with young children

Children who are exposed to air pollution at a young age are more likely to become obese, according to new research.

High levels of nitrogen dioxide, mainly emitted by diesel engines, lead to considerably faster weight gain in later years if young people are around the fumes in their first year of life, a study by the University of Southern California found.

Obesity

It follows past analysis, including a recent World Health Organisation (WHO) report, showing the scientific knowledge on the links between exposure to air pollution and the adverse health effects in children as a result.

“The evidence is clear: air pollution has a devastating impact on children’s health,” said WHO.

The latest study, first published in science journal Environmental Health, said:

“…Because in utero and first year of life are important developmental periods that influence growth, increased NRAP exposure during these critical periods may be contributing to future obesity risk through altered growth trajectories resulting in faster childhood BMI growth…”

While the study focused on the US, the Guardian, which first reported the study in the UK, has pointed out that nitrogen dioxide levels are at illegal levels in most urban areas in Britain.

Jeniffer Kim, who led the latest research at the University of Southern California, told the newspaper: “We would urge parents to be mindful where their young children spend their time, especially considering if those areas are near major roads.

Future development

“The first year of life is a period of rapid development of various systems in the body [and] may prime the body’s future development.”

The study followed 2,318 children in southern California and supplemented past investigations which had also highlighted the development of obesity in children who are around pollution in early years.

Dr Kim and her team looked specifically at the impact of air pollution, at busy main roads where diesel trucks and cars are common, in the first year of life – a crucial stage in early development.

Pollution and weight gain

The university report said children aged 10 who had been around the impact of air pollution in their first year were almost 1kg heavier than average.

The research concluded: “Our study suggests that early life may represent a critical window of exposure where increased [air pollution] may result in increased risk for higher childhood [weight] trajectories, which in turn may lead to childhood obesity”.

On Monday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) revealed that 90 per cent of the world’s children are breathing in unsafe air. The situation has been described as “inexcusable”.

“Polluted air is poisoning millions of children and ruining their lives,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general.

“This is inexcusable. Every child should be able to breathe clean air so they can grow and fulfil their full potential.”

WHO report

WHO’s Dr Neira added: “Air pollution is stunting our children’s brains, affecting their health in more ways than we suspected. But there are many straight-forward ways to reduce emissions of dangerous pollutants.

“WHO is supporting implementation of health-wise policy measures like accelerating the switch to clean cooking and heating fuels and technologies, promoting the use of cleaner transport, energy-efficient housing and urban planning.

“We are preparing the ground for low emission power generation, cleaner, safer industrial technologies and better municipal waste management.”

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