Busy roads hinder lung development

Living near a busy road can lead to asthma and stunt lung development according to a Californian study involving almost 4,000 children.

The increased exposure to traffic pollution can, according to researchers at the University of Southern California, lead to permanent health problems normally associated with smoking.

The study of 3,677 children showed that those who lived within 500m of a dual carriageway or motorway since the age of ten had substantially worse lung function by the age of 18 than those who lived more than 1,500m from similar busy roads.

“Otherwise-healthy children who were non-asthmatic and non-smokers also experienced a significant decrease in lung function from traffic pollution,” said lead author W James Gauderman, associate professor of preventative medicine at the Keck School of Medicine.

“This suggests that all children, not just susceptible subgroups, are potentially affected by traffic exposure. Someone suffering a pollution-related deficit in lung function as a child will probably have less than healthy lungs all of his or her life and poor lung function in later adult life is known to be a major risk factor for respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.”

The study tracked the respiratory health of children from 12 communities over a period of eight years.

Lung function was assessed by measuring how much air a person can exhale after taking a deep breath and how quickly that air can be exhaled.

Children’s lung function develops rapidly during adolescence until they reach their late teens or early 20s. A deficit in lung development during childhood is likely to translate into reduced function for the remainder of life.

Previous studies have demonstrated links between lung function growth and regional air quality but this study shows the impact of localised pollution from a specific source, in this case exhaust fumes of traffic.

“This study provides further proof that regional air quality regulations may need to be adjusted based on local factors, including traffic volume,” Gauderman said. “This is important because in areas where the population continues to grow, more and more children are living or attending school near busy roadways. This may be harmful in the long run.”

Sam Bond

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