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Living Close To Traffic Pollution Can Affect Lung Development

A newly published study in the The Lancet indicates that living close to freeway traffic can negatively impact lung development in children.

Children's lungs tend to grow rapidly between the ages of 10 and 18, and this most recent study concludes that steady exposure to airborne pollutants during this age range can lead to short and long term respiratory challenges.

The children in this study who experienced stunted lung growth lived within 500 meters (approximately a third of a mile) of a freeway. Children who lived 1,500 meters (approximately one mile) or more away from a freeway experienced normal lung development.

The study looked at a total of 3,677 children living in 12 southern California communities. The findings of this study took into account differences in regional air quality; even in areas with low overall regional pollution, children were found to be at risk of experiencing stunted lung development if they lived close to a major roadway.

Two common measures of lung function were used to assess lung development:

  1. Forced Expiratory Volume in the first second, also known as FEV1. This measure represents the volume of air that can be forced out of one's lungs in one second after taking a deep breath. FEV1 is considered to be one of the most important measures of pulmonary function.
  2. Maximum mid-expiratory flow rate, also known as MMEF. This measure represents the maximum volume of air that can be forced out of one's lungs during the mid-range (25-75%) period of one full exhalation. MMEF is also considered to be an important measure of pulmonary function and overall lung capacity.

Children who lived within 500 meters of freeway traffic were measured to have smaller eight-year increases in FEV1 and MMEF, which translated to a significant decrease in predicted lung function at 18 years of age. And such a decrease in lung function would certainly increase their risk of suffering with various cardiovascular and respiratory diseases during adulthood.

What follows are the take-home lessons that we can draw from this important study:

  1. When choosing a primary residence, to the extent that our life circumstances allow, we should try to choose a location that is a mile or more away from roads that are typically congested with traffic.
  2. We should aim to send our children to schools that are not so close to busy roads.
  3. We should remember that exposure to fresh air is a critical requirement for optimal health; regular exposure to fresh air is no less important to our health than eating healthy foods, getting regular, restful sleep, exercising our bodies, having mature and loving relationships, and consistently feeling emotionally balanced.
 
 

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