Poor Air Quality Poses Risks To Kids’ Mental Health
A recent study conducted in Sweden has found that air pollution levels might correspond with the percentage of kids who have a mental health disorder.
The Swedish study found that higher numbers of medications commonly prescribed for psychiatric conditions were dispensed to teens and younger children in areas that tested for higher levels of air pollution.
According to Anna Oudin, a researcher of public health at Umea University in Sweden and lead study author, this meant that when air pollution becomes less severe, especially that from traffic, this could reduce children’s and adolescents’ psychiatric disorders.
The researchers examined lists of medications that were prescribed for psychiatric disorders in children and teens from a Swiss national registry that accurately tracks specific sedatives and anti-psychotics for the study. They compared the medication lists from four counties in Sweden over a three year period ranging from 2007 to 2010. Data on the level of pollution in the air was also gathered on the four counties, which included Stockholm, Vastra Gotaland, Skane and Vasterbotten.
During the study, researchers noticed that when there were higher levels of pollution in the air, the number of medications prescribed for mental health disorders also increased in children and teens. To be more specific, researchers found that every time nitrogen dioxide rose 10 micrograms per cubic meter, the number of prescriptions filled increased by nine percent.
The study, which was published on June 3 in the BMJ open journal, only adds strength to earlier research that indicated air pollution and anxiety levels were closely connected. The previous study found that increased pollution in the air corresponded to higher levels of stress and a greater number of mental conditions in the general population. The new study also shows that air quality can affect children’s and teens’ mental health.
While the studies do not clarify how pollution levels affect mental health, there are some general ideas. Higher levels of pollution in the air can cause inflammation and what is referred to as “oxidative stress,” and this might be responsible for some mental health disorders. There is also some evidence suggesting that ambient particulate matter that is found in polluted air could make the brain more vulnerable to certain psychiatric disorders.
Dr. Len Horovitz, who is a pulmonary specialist in New York City at Lenox Hospital, is emphatic that the new Swedish study does not show a direct cause and effect relationship between mental health disorders and air pollution. It should be noted that Dr. Horovitz did not participate in the study.
The doctor went on to state that the increased number of medications and higher pollution levels might not be related, and the higher number of mental disorders might be a direct cause of a condition referred to as SAD (seasonal affective disorder), which is a problem for some residents in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries.
Dr. Horovitz also stated that more research is needed before other factors that could be a contributing cause are completely eliminated.