Major study into effects of air pollution on children’s brain developmen

A grant of £300,000 has been awarded to researchers to conduct a major study into the impact of air pollution in London on children’s brain function and their mental health.

The team at Queen Mary University of London will examine the impact of London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone on children’s brain development thanks to this major funding boost from the Barts Charity.

Over the next three years, The CHILL COGNITION study will explore to what extent reducing traffic, and the subsequent supply of better air quality, improves how well children’s brains develop in terms of their abilities in tasks such as problem solving and memory recall.

With the effect of traffic emissions on children in the capital now a major issue, the work will also will build on the findings of CHILL, an ongoing study of 3,416 primary school children in London and Luton, which is investigating the effects of air pollution on respiratory health and lung development.

Children from more than 80 primary schools in London are taking part in the study, and their cognitive development will be assessed through fun and interactive tasks on computers, and their wellbeing monitored through mental health questionnaires.

Professor Chris Griffiths, Professor of Primary Care at Queen Mary University of London and study lead, said: “London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone and UK-wide lockdowns have resulted in unprecedented reductions in traffic pollution and there has never been a better opportunity to address how air pollution affects children’s health. We hope to determine whether improved air quality, and specifically, traffic-related air pollution, results in better developmental and mental health outcomes for young people.”

Professor Mark Mon-Williams, Professor of Psychology at the Bradford Institute of Health Research said: “Ultimately this research could help to improve educational outcomes, identify children at risk of future mental health problems due to the air quality where they live, and this could enable earlier intervention and allow public services to provide the necessary support and action.”

‘Children from disadvantaged backgrounds may be worse affected’

Dr Ian Mudway, Senior Lecturer in the MRC Centre for Environment and Health at Imperial College said: “Results of CHILL COGNITION may throw light on causes of health inequalities whereby children from disadvantaged backgrounds may be more adversely affected by poor air quality.”

Between 2018 and 2020, the Ultra Low Emission Zone in London resulted in roadside nitrogen dioxide reducing by almost one third.

CHILL and CHILL COGNITION are collaborations across Queen Mary University of London, Imperial College London, University of Bedfordshire, University of Edinburgh, University of Cambridge, University of Leeds, University of Southern California, and Bradford Institute for Health Research. CHILL is funded by NIHR Public Health Research. CHILL COGNITION is funded by Barts Charity and receives additional funding from the Mayor of London.

Author: Simon Weedy

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