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Exposure to air pollution may impact kids' academic performance

Children with high exposure tended to do worse in several academic areas

Photo (c) Stevica Mrdja EyeEm - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from Columbia University explored how kids’ performance in school may be impacted by exposure to air pollution

According to their findings, exposure to pollutants may affect comprehension and skill level in several areas, including reading, math, and cognitive outcomes. 

“Children with poor inhibitory control are less able to override a common response in favor of a more unusual one -- such as the natural response to say ‘up’ when an arrow is facing up or ‘go’ when a light is green -- and instead say ‘down’ or ‘stop,’” said researcher Amy Margolis, Ph.D. “By compromising childhood inhibitory control, prenatal exposure to air pollution may alter the foundation upon which later academic skills are built.”  

Consequences of air pollution exposure

For the study, the researchers tracked the cognitive and academic outcomes for more than 200 children in the Bronx and Manhattan from the time their mothers were pregnant until they were 13. They analyzed pollution levels when the women were in their third trimesters and then evaluated the participants’ academic and behavioral performance for over a decade.

The study showed that children exposed to the highest levels of air pollution were the most likely to struggle academically. High air pollution exposure was linked with poorer results in spelling, reading comprehension, and math abilities. Moving forward, the researchers hope these findings highlight one of the risks associated with prenatal air pollution exposure.

“This study adds to a growing body of literature showing the deleterious health effects of prenatal exposure to air pollution on child health outcomes, including academic achievement,” said researcher Julie Herbstman, Ph.D. “Reducing levels of air pollution may prevent these adverse outcomes and lead to improvements in children’s academic achievement.” 

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