Author: Professor Reza Ziarati – Chair of CW-AQPC.
In a study carried out by Dr Helen Fisher it has been found that those who grow up amid heavy traffic pollution have higher rates of mental illness by age 18. The study has demonstrated that children growing up in our biggest cities face a greater risk of mental illness due to higher levels of traffic. Dr Fisher is of the view that “While we might like to think of our towns and cities as green and open spaces, it’s clear that there is a hidden danger that many will not have even considered.”
The findings are from a 25-year-long joint British/American study of 2,039 children – all twins – born in England and Wales during 1994 and 1995, whose mental health was assessed at 18.
Denis Campbell Health policy editor of the Guardian, refer to a statement in the research report that ‘youths persistently exposed to moderate levels of nitrogen oxide air pollution may experience greater overall liability to psychiatric illness by young adulthood’.
This is yet another scientific proof that exposure to nitrogen oxides and particulate matters in childhood adversely impacts and the children developments and causes disorders such as anxiety and depression. While it is also asserted that the link between air pollution and risk of mental illness is “modest” but real, they themselves state that the association was also “a liability independent of other individual, family and neighbourhood influences on mental health”, such as poverty and family history of mental disorder. Dr Helen Fisher, the study’s co-author, said: “This study has demonstrated that children growing up in our biggest cities face a greater risk of mental illness due to higher levels of traffic.
Participants’ mental health was measured when they were 18 using an assessment of symptoms for ten common psychiatric disorders, such as ADHD, anxiety and alcohol dependence. That was used to calculate a measure of their mental health called the psychopathology factor or p-factor. Those with a higher p-factor score displayed more of those symptoms. The researchers found that those who had the highest exposure to nitrogen oxides scored 2.62 points higher on the general psychopathology score than their peers in the bottom three quartiles. Those exposed to the most particulate matters scored 2.04 points more than their peers.
Andy Bell, deputy chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health thinktank, is of the view that our mental health is determined by the lives we lead, the environments we’re in and our experiences from our early years onwards. A child’s mental health is influenced by many factors, including their home, school, community and neighbourhood. “We know that poverty, racism, trauma and exclusion are major risks to mental health. As the research shows, our physical environment matters too, and making places safer, cleaner and healthier to live in will have lifelong benefits.” It is interesting that Andy Bell ignores that assertion by the authors that their findings were “independent of other individual, family and neighbourhood influences on mental health”. According to the Guardian, Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at the Open University, said that while the study did show an association between traffic fumes and mental ill-heath, “what they can’t do is to show that it’s the high air pollution that actually causes the poorer mental health.” Bell and McConway statements can be used to deny that pollution is the real culprit albeit we know it is. To many scientists, correlation is a scientific means to reach conclusions; our Group, CW-AQPC, has already found that pollution significantly aggravates heart and lung functions and causes many other ailments of the central nervous system with proven risk for mental illness. It is interesting to note that nine out of ten people worldwide are exposed to high levels of pollution, according to the World Health Organisation. It is also noted that Port cities such as Southampton which host cruise-liners are heavily polluted.
 Coventry and Warwickshire Air Quality People’s Chamber
 Fisher was the principal investigator of the study at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London, which also involved Duke University in the US.