Researchers from the University of Southern California found that children who were exposed to high levels of nitrogen dioxide, which is emitted by diesel engines, in the first year of life gained weight quicker throughout childhood and had a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) at the age of 10.
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They said the findings have ‘significant public health relevance for intervention given the large number of children living near roads.
The research, published in the journal Environmental Health, followed 2,318 children in southern California. The children’s height and weight was measured annually over a four-year period and their lifetime exposure to near road air pollution was estimated, including while in the womb or during the first year of life.
It builds upon previous research in which traffic pollution was identified as a ‘major risk factor for the development of obesity in children aged 10-18.
The researchers of the latest study conclude that because being in the womb and the first year of life are important developmental periods that influence growth, increased exposure to near road air pollution during these ‘critical periods’ may be contributing to future obesity risk by altering the path of growth, resulting in faster childhood BMI growth.
The publication of the research follows the launch of the National Clean Air for Children Programme last month, which calls for £153m of funding to protect babies and children from the harmful effects of pollution.
- The study is available here