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Air pollution could put children at greater risk of schizophrenia

Researchers aren’t sure why the relationship exists, but their findings are concerning

Photo (c) azgek - Getty Images
Recent studies have explored the ways that children’s physical and mental health can be affected by air pollution. Now, a new study conducted by researchers from Aarhus University found yet another way that it can affect young people. 

According to the researchers, exposure to higher levels of air pollution during childhood could increase the risk of developing schizophrenia. 

“This study shows that the higher the level of air pollution, the higher the risk of schizophrenia,” said researcher Henriette Thisted Horsdal. “For each 10 [milligrams per cubic meter] increase in the daily average, the risk of schizophrenia increases by approximately 20 percent. Children who are exposed to an average daily level above 25 [milligrams per cubic meters] have an approximately 60 percent greater risk of developing schizophrenia compared to those who are exposed to less than 10 [milligrams per cubic meters].” 

Understanding the risks

The researchers conducted a population-based study to determine the relationship between air pollution and schizophrenia, evaluating data from over 23,000 participants. 

In addition to DNA testing, which would help the researchers assess the genetic component responsible for schizophrenia, they also took note of the participants’ addresses as a way to measure the air pollution they were exposed to during childhood. 

Ultimately, over 3,500 participants developed schizophrenia. The study revealed that this was most common for those who lived in areas with the highest levels of air pollution during their childhood. 

Though the association was clear for the researchers analyzing the data, the reason for the correlation remains a mystery.

“The risk of developing schizophrenia is also higher if you have a higher genetic liability for the disease,” said Horsdal. “Our data shows that these associations are independent of each other. The association between air pollution and schizophrenia cannot be explained by a higher genetic liability in people who grow up in areas with high levels of air pollution.” 

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