Air Pollution Is Giving Children Dangerously High Blood Pressure

A little boy plays near a metallurgy plant, one of many sources of fine particulate matter pollution in industrialized nations. Soloviova Liudmyla/Shutterstock

Aliyah Kovner 17 May 2018, 10:47

By now, we all know that a world powered by fossil fuel combustion not only threatens the integrity of our ecosystems through greenhouse gas-driven climate change, but also directly jeopardizes human health by poisoning the air. Yet sometimes that abstract concept needs to be put into concrete terms to really get through to people. And a new study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health may do just that.

As reported in the journal Hypertension, 3 to 9-year-old children born to mothers who were exposed to polluted air during their third trimester were significantly more likely to have high blood pressure (BP) than those whose mothers lived in regions with cleaner air, regardless of their exposure in the intervening years.

The investigation is among the first to show that inhalation of fine particulate matter (PM), known to induce a host of severe medical conditions – including hypertension – in adults, also has lasting transgenerational effects.

"We need regulations to keep our air clean, not only for the health of our planet but also for the health of our children," study co-author Dr Noel Mueller told CBS News.

"We know that blood pressure tracks through life. Children who have elevated blood pressure in childhood have a higher probability of having hypertension later in life and cardiovascular diseases." 

Mueller and his colleagues used data from 1,293 American mother-child pairs who had been followed since the child was born as part of a larger ongoing study. Exposure to fine PM was determined by averaging the daily concentration of particles recorded by the US Environmental Protection Agency air quality monitoring station nearest to the mother’s home.

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