Intellectual disabilities are more common among poor children living in areas that have higher levels of air pollution.
Not only may air pollution cause cognitive and developmental problems in young children. Air pollution also discriminates against already disadvantaged youngsters.
So say the authors of a new study who have found that levels of exposure to outdoor air pollution are significantly higher among children with intellectual disabilities than among those without such disabilities.
The researchers reached this conclusion after examining a nationally representative sample of more than 18,000 children born in the United Kingdom between 2000 and 2002. What they found was that children with intellectual disabilities were 33% more likely than their peers to live in areas with high levels of diesel particulate matter.
These disadvantaged children were also 30% more likely to live in areas with high levels of nitrogen dioxide and 30% more likely to live in areas with high levels of carbon monoxide.
These findings do not prove that air pollution causes intellectual disabilities, albeit high levels of it are bound to exacerbate their effects in children. Rather, the authors note, intellectual disabilities are more common among children living in socio-economically deprived areas, which also tend to have higher levels of air pollution. However, they add, exposure to outdoor air pollution may indeed impede children’s cognitive development, which can increase the risk of intellectual disabilities.
“We know that people with intellectual disabilities in the UK have poorer health and die earlier than they should,” explained lead author Dr. Eric Emerson, of The University of Sydney, in Australia. “This research adds another piece to the jigsaw of understanding why that is the case and what needs to be done about it.”
What needs to be done of course includes transitioning to less polluting sources of energy generation and transportation. Moving away from the burning of fossil fuels will help those who need such help the most, including disadvantaged youngsters in economically deprived urban areas the world over.