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Air pollution may increase the risk of kids having high blood pressure, study finds

Experts worry about the long-term health consequences for young people

Photo (c) Cavan Images - Getty Images
Several studies have analyzed the ways that air pollution can pose a threat to children’s physical health, mental health, and brain development. 

Now, a new study conducted by researchers from the American Heart Association has found another way that air pollution can be damaging to children’s short- and long-term health. According to their findings, exposure to air pollution may increase the risk of kids developing high blood pressure both during childhood and adulthood. 

“Our analysis is the first to closely examine previous research to assess both the quality and magnitude of the associations between air pollution and blood pressure values among children and adolescents,” said researcher Dr. Yao Lu. “The findings provide evidence of a positive association between short- and long-term exposure to certain environmental air pollutants and blood pressure in children and adolescents.” 

Monitoring blood pressure

To understand the impact that air pollution can have on kids’ blood pressure, the researchers analyzed 14 earlier studies that included data on more than 350,000 children between the ages of five and 13. They focused on exposure to pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide and both coarse and fine particulate matter (PM2.5). The team also analyzed the length of time that children were exposed to the various pollutants and what role they played in their health outcomes. 

Ultimately, the researchers learned that any kind of exposure to air pollution was associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure in kids. Systolic blood pressure readings were impacted by long-term exposure to all three pollutants and short-term exposure to coarse particulate matter (PM10). On the other hand, the diastolic reading increased most often when there was long-term exposure to both fine and coarse particulate matter. 

The researchers explained that more work needs to be done in this area to better understand how different kinds of pollutants can impact kids’ heart health and blood pressure. However, these findings highlight the ways that many young people are already being affected by short- and long-term exposure to air pollution. Moving forward, the researchers hope these findings lead to changes in air pollution regulations.

“To reduce the impact of environmental pollution on blood pressure in children and adolescents, efforts should be made to reduce their exposure to environmental pollutants,” Dr. Lu said. “Additionally, it is also very important to routinely measure blood pressure in children and adolescents, which can help us identify individuals with elevated blood pressure early.”