Exposure to pollution on the way to school damages memory

Going to school in areas with high pollution levels due to traffic emissions can lead to a decrease in the cognitive development of children, especially affecting their working memory.

Children who walk to school incorporate physical activity into their daily lives, however, those who make this journey in cities with a high level of air pollution can be affected their cognitive development and, especially, their memory. This has been the main conclusion reached by a group of researchers from the Global Health Institute of Barcelona (ISGlobal).

The full work has been published in the journal Environmental Pollution and analyzes the amount of pollution to which children are exposed on their way to school and the possible health consequences. The conclusions were obtained by analyzing a group of 1,234 children between seven and ten years old, from 39 schools in Barcelona, over a period of 12 months. Numerous tests were carried out to evaluate the evolution of their work and care records, and estimates of pollution on the routes were taken.

Children are more affected by pollution because they have less lung capacity and a higher respiratory rate

Exposure to particulate matter of less than 2.5 microns (PM2.5) and black carbon (BC) – one of the pollutants most associated with traffic – has been associated with reduced cognitive development in children. In more detail, the increase of an interquartile range in PM2.5 and in BC showed a reduction of 4.6% and 3.9% in the development of the working memory expected in a full year. The relationship of this problem to contact with nitrogen dioxide (NO2) was also analyzed, but no significant association was found.

Different effects of pollution on boys and girls

One of the most curious data from the research is that variations were found in the reaction to PM2.5 suspended particles and black carbon in boys and girls. The male gender was much more sensitive to these compounds than the female, although the causes were not thoroughly studied.

In a previous work, it was concluded that 20% of the amount of black carbon received by minors each day occurred during the trips in the city. Mar Álvarez-Pedrerol, author of the study, says they have already confirmed that being in contact with high pollutants has serious health impacts, adding that this is aggravated in the case of children, because they have less lung capacity and a higher respiratory rate. Therefore, some of the researchers recommend taking the school routes through the streets with less pollution.