Friday, April 30, 2021

Childhood Exposure to Air Pollution Linked to Psychiatric Symptoms in Young Adulthood

Exposure to air pollution in childhood may be a risk factor for poorer mental health in young adulthood, a study in JAMA Network Open has found. The study suggests that exposure to outdoor nitrogen oxides (NOx) such as those emitted from vehicles and industry may increase the risk of symptoms of psychiatric illness as much as childhood exposure to lead.

“Given the ubiquity of this exposure, air pollution could represent a meaningful contributor to the global burden of psychiatric illness, particularly in poor air-quality regions,” wrote Aaron Reuben, M.E.M., of Duke University, Louise Arseneault, Ph.D., of Kings College London, and colleagues.

The researchers analyzed data from 2,039 young adults in the Environmental-Risk Longitudinal Twin Study, a population-based cohort study of children born from January 1, 1994, to December 4, 1995, in England and Wales. The study followed participants until they were 18 years old, at which time the participants were interviewed about past-year symptoms of mental disorder. Reuben and colleagues combined symptoms associated with 10 psychiatric disorders to create a single measure of mental health, the psychopathology factor (p-factor). They also assessed the young adults’ internalizing symptoms (depression, generalized anxiety, posttraumatic stress, and disordered eating), externalizing symptoms (substance use, oppositional behavior, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity), and symptoms of thought disorders (delusions, hallucinations, and unusual thoughts and feelings).

By using high-quality air dispersion models and data provided by the U.K. National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory and the Imperial College’s U.K. road-traffic emissions inventory, Reuben and colleagues were able to determine the levels of NOx around the participants’ homes when the participants were 10 and 18 years old.

The researchers found that those with the greater exposure to NOx as children had higher p-factors and were more likely to have internalizing symptoms, external symptoms, and symptoms of disordered thought at age 18 than those with lower exposure, even after adjusting for other mental health risk factors such as lower socioeconomic status and a family history of mental illness.

Reuben and colleagues noted that air pollution may affect central nervous system (CNS) development.

“Overall, robust but nonspecific elevations in psychopathology after air pollution exposure reflect the findings that air pollutants can effect diverse and diffuse CNS developmental impairments, depending on the pollutant mix, duration of exposure, age of exposure, and pathway to the brain,” they wrote.

For related information, see the Psychiatric Services article “Air Pollutants and Daily Hospital Admissions for Psychiatric Care: A Review.”

(Image: iStock/Hung_Chung_Chih)

Interested in Loan Repayment Program? NHSC Welcomes Applicants

The deadline to submit applications for the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Loan Repayment Program has been extended until Thursday, May 27 at 7:30 p.m. ET. Learn more about your eligibility and the application process here.


Don't miss out! To learn about newly posted articles in Psychiatric News, please sign up here.


The content of Psychiatric News does not necessarily reflect the views of APA or the editors. Unless so stated, neither Psychiatric News nor APA guarantees, warrants, or endorses information or advertising in this newspaper. Clinical opinions are not peer reviewed and thus should be independently verified.