Children exposed to high levels of air pollution have up to a 50% higher chance of self-harming, study claims

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  • Children exposed to particulate matter 48% more likely to harm themselves
  • and in areas where there are high levels of nitrogen dioxide, they are 50% more likely to occur
  • Findings add to evidence of an air pollution and mental health problem link

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One study suggested that children exposed to high levels of air pollution were up to 50 percent more likely to harm themselves later in life.

A study of 1.4 million children under the age of 10 in Denmark showed that those who were exposed to high levels of nitrogen dioxide were more likely to harm themselves in adulthood than their peers.


And people in the same age group were 48 percent more likely to self-harm later from exposure to above average levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5).

Nitrogen dioxide is mainly generated by cars, while PM2.5 is mainly emitted by burning diesel and petrol, which are commonly used for shipping and heating.

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These two pollutants are most commonly associated with harm to physical health, such as heart and lung diseases, by entering the bloodstream and causing inflammation.

Researchers do not yet explain the mechanism of how these pollutants can cause mental health problems.

But he suggested that high pollution levels could trigger inflammation in the brain, which could lead to mental health problems.

He said childhood is a ‘sensitive time for brain development’, so young people may be ‘particularly susceptible’ to the negative effects of toxic particles in the air.

A study by researchers in the UK and Denmark found that children exposed to high levels of common air pollutants nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter were up to 50 percent more likely to harm themselves later in life.

Researchers from the University of Manchester in England and Aarhus University in Denmark looked at national databases to track 1.4 million Danes born between 1979 and 2006.

study, which was published in preventive Medicine, used each person’s place of residence from their birth to their 10th birthday and how long they lived at that address to measure particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide at the outdoor level.

They then tracked people down until December 2016, noting which ones went to the hospital to harm themselves.

He classified self-harm as overdosing and biting the arm, or any other intentional harm.

What is particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide?

Particulate matter (PM) is everything in the air that is not a gas.

It contains a variety of chemicals and ingredients, some of which can be toxic.

Because of the small size of many of the particles that make up PM, some of these toxins can enter the bloodstream and be carried around the body to the heart, brain, and other organs.

Therefore, exposure to PM can have serious health implications, especially in vulnerable groups of young, elderly and people with respiratory problems.

Meanwhile, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is a gas mainly produced during the combustion of fossil fuels.

Short-term exposure to concentrations of NO can cause inflammation of the airways and increase susceptibility to respiratory infections and allergies.

NO2 can exacerbate symptoms in people who already suffer from lung or heart conditions.

Source: Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs


Some 32,984 people (2.3 percent) self-harmed over the study period, with cases being higher among women, whose parents had mental illness and individuals from poor families.

Children exposed to an average of 19 micrograms/cubic meter or more per day have a 48 percent higher chance of self-harm later in life, compared to children who are exposed to an average of 19 micrograms/cubic meter or more per day.

And for every 5 micrograms/cubic meter increase in exposure of more than 19 micrograms/cubic meter, the risk of self-harm increased by 42 percent.

The researchers observed particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter.

The mean daily exposure to particulate matter was 13.5 µg/m3 per day.

UK air quality standards require that concentrations of this size of particulate matter not exceed the annual average of 25 µg/m3.

Meanwhile, children who were exposed to an average of 25 micrograms/m3 or more of nitrogen dioxide between birth and age 10 were 50 percent more likely to self-harm than those who lived in those areas. where they came into contact. Less than 10 micrograms/cubic meter or less per day.

And for every 10 micrograms/cubic meter increase above 25 micrograms/cubic meter, the risk of self-harm increased by 21 percent.

The mean daily exposure to nitrogen dioxide was 18.1 µg/m3 per day.

Air quality regulations in the UK outline that the annual average concentration of nitrogen dioxide should not exceed 40 µg/m3.

Lead author Dr Pearl Mok, a research fellow at the University of Manchester, said the research is the first population-based study to show that prolonged exposure to two common pollutants during childhood is associated with a higher self-harm risk.

She said: ‘Our findings add to the growing evidence-base indicating that exposure to high levels of air pollution is associated with poorer mental health outcomes.

‘Although air pollution is widespread, it is a modifiable risk factor and therefore we hope that the findings of our study will inform policymakers who are formulating strategies to tackle this problem.’

The findings follow a study from China, which showed that children who attended schools with high daily concentrations of particulate matter had more cases of self-harm than those who attended schools in those areas. where the air was less polluted.

But that study found no link between self-harm and nitrogen oxides.

Professor Roger Webb, a psychology and mental health expert from the University of Manchester and study co-author, said: ‘In recent years a growing body of evidence has indicated that exposure to air pollution is also associated with adverse mental health outcomes.

‘Children living in neighborhoods with high levels of air pollution are at increased risk of developing a range of mental disorders, including…


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