Boys exposed to pollution in the womb and childhood may have poor thinking skills, scientists in Barcelona say after a study

Warning for air pollution when scientists discover that boys who are exposed to toxic air in the womb and may have poor memory during childhood

  • A study analyzed children's exposure to pollution from the womb up to the age of seven
  • Higher levels of pollution affected the working memory needed for learning
  • The researchers suggest that girls' hormone response to inflammation protects them

Boys who are exposed to pollution in the womb and in childhood may have poorer thinking skills and working memory, scientists claim.

Researchers assessed whether the inhalation of a small pollutant emitted by diesel smoke, known as PM2.5, affected school children in tests.

They found that boys were exposed to higher levels of the small pollutant released by diesel smoke that underperformed memory tests.

However, the findings did not apply to girls. The Spanish researchers think this is because they have different hormones and genetics.


Boys exposed to pollution in the womb and childhood may have poor thinking skills, scientists in Barcelona say after a study

Boys exposed to pollution in the womb and childhood may have poor thinking skills, scientists in Barcelona say after a study

Both boys and girls who were exposed to contamination in the womb and during childhood were also less able to stay focused on a computer-based task.

Poor working memory skills can influence the learning process of children, because this is necessary in the classroom for concentration, but also for daily life.

The findings contribute to the growing evidence that air pollution threatens the brain and cognitive function of children.

Researchers from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) used data from 2,221 children between seven and ten years old.

The children's cognitive skills were assessed using various tests on the computer and found the study published in Environmental Health Perspectives.


Their exposure to air pollution at home during pregnancy and during childhood was estimated with a model with real measurements.

The study found that greater exposure to PM2.5 from pregnancy to the age of seven was associated with lower working memory scores in tests in boys.

The results suggest that exposure to fine suspended particles had a cumulative effect throughout the study period, meaning that they deteriorated over time.

Working memory is a system in the brain that is responsible for temporarily storing information, similar to short-term memory.

It has limited capacity and the information is processed during use – for example, when writing down a telephone number.


It plays a fundamental role in learning, reasoning, problem solving and language comprehension.

Executive attention is one of three networks that form a person's attention and is involved in forms of high-level attention.

It is involved in detecting and resolving conflicts, error detection and regulating thoughts and feelings.

Dr. Ioar Rivas, principal investigator, said: & Up to now we do not understand what causes these differences (between boys and girls).

& # 39; But there are several hormonal and genetic mechanisms that can make girls respond better to inflammatory processes that are caused by fine particles and are less susceptible to the toxicity of these particles. & # 39;


The same team has previously discovered lower levels of cognitive development in children who go to school with higher levels of traffic-related air pollution.

But this study estimated exposure over a much longer time – from pregnancy to the age of seven – as opposed to just a year earlier work.

Study author Jordi Sunyer, youth and environmental coordinator at ISGlobal, said that pollution endangers the future success of children.

He said: & # 39; This study reinforces our earlier findings and confirms that exposure to air pollution at the start of life and throughout childhood is a threat to neurological development and an obstacle that prevents children from reaching their full potential. & # 39;

A growing number of studies suggest that exposure to air pollution in the earliest stages of life is associated with negative effects on cognitive skills.


Fine air particles, weighing less than 0.0025 mg and about 3 percent of the diameter of a human hair, are released into vehicle exhaust gases.

They come into circulation when they are inhaled and deposited in the lungs.


Pollution is harmful to children's lung function, even at lower exposure levels, and also contributes to a multitude of health problems, usually related to cardiovascular and pulmonary disorders.

It also influences neurological development, leading to lower cognitive test results, which adversely affect mental and motor development, the World Health Organization said.

Researchers have long established that children growing up in the vicinity of congested motorways suffer more from mental disorders and learning and development delays.


Children who breathe in toxic air may have a higher risk of growing up with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), research in Environment International suggests.

Researchers have discovered that young people who live in highly polluted parts of Shanghai have an 86 percent greater chance of developing ASD.

The scientists, based at Monash University in Australia, said that children are most at risk in their first three years of life.



Scientists have associated toxic air with intense paranoia and hearing voices among young people.

Teenagers living in a polluted city run a higher risk of developing a psychosis, according to research in the JAMA Psychiatry.

The researchers, led by Dr. Joanne Newbury at Kings College London, discovered that psychotic experiences occur significantly more often in urban areas.

Here exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and very small particles (PM2.5) was highest.



Air pollution from car & # 39; s exhaust gases can change the structure of children's brains to make them more anxious, according to research from the University of Cincinnati.

The study used neuroimaging and discovered that those exposed to pollution had higher volumes of a metabolite associated with Alzheimer's disease and brain disease.

And the same children had a higher degree of anxiety in the short term, giving the scientists an idea of ​​how pollution could affect the brain to increase the risk of mental illness.


Exposure to & # 39; safe & # 39; levels of air pollution during pregnancy increases the risk for children to develop ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) later, research in the journal Biological Psychiatry suggests.


Young people whose expectant mothers lived in homes with fine air particle contamination have thinner outer layers of their brains, which is associated with ADHD.

The researchers from Erasmus University in Rotterdam analyzed pregnant women whose children were followed from their pregnancies to between six and ten years old.

Brain health was examined with the help of scans that were taken when the youngsters were between six and ten years old.

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