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Pollution Retards Lung Development in Kids

Breathing Polluted Air Linked to Reduced Lung Function in Children

Similar to Secondhand Smoke continued...

A linear link was seen between exposure to air pollution and lung development in the eight-year follow-up study, with kids exposed to the most pollution being most likely to have deficits in lung function compared with other children exposed to less air pollutants. Pollutants were found to be associated with diminished lung development.

"The deficits we saw (in children living in polluted communities) were similar to that seen among kids exposed to secondhand smoke," Gauderman tells WebMD.

Study co-author John Peters, MD, called the potential long-term effects of reduced lung function throughout life "alarming."

"It's second only to smoking as a risk factor for mortality," he noted. "As lung function decreases, the risk of respiratory disease and heart attacks increases."

'Important Opportunity'

The researchers will continue to follow the study participants into their 20s, in part to determine if those who move to less polluted areas experience improvements in lung function.

In an editorial accompanying the study, environmental epidemiologist C. Arden Pope III, PhD, noted that the findings could be considered good news because they prove that controlling air pollution "represents an important opportunity to prevent disease."

He wrote that while improvements in air quality have been made in the U.S., pollution is still a major problem in many areas of the world.

"The good news is that here in the U.S. we have made some real progress, and the literature suggests that continued improvements in air quality can result in continued improvements in cardiopulmonary health," Pope tells WebMD. "The bad news, of course, is that we still aren't where we want to be. And now it is clear that pollution-related health effects can occur even with low to moderate exposures."

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