How Does Urban Living Affect Children? You May Be Surprised At The Answer

It probably doesn’t come as any surprise that if you live in a major city or near a busy highway, you’re subjected to more air pollution.

Doctors have known for years that this can cause problems in developing children, like asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

But what is not as well-known is another, perhaps equally frightening, aspect of raising kids in congested areas.

You’ve probably heard that there are two kinds of people – those who love to live in the city and those who prefer a more rural way of life.

For many of us, there is little choice in the matter.  Housing prices, the location of our jobs, and where our families come from are all factors in where we eventually lay down our roots.

And our children, of course, have to be where we have to be.

But for those in urban areas, they know that there are increased risks involved in city life – dangerous amounts of traffic, crime, noise, and air pollution.

Air pollution has been linked to respiratory ailments in both kids and adults, and children seem to be more susceptible due to their bodies still building immunities and going through different developmental phases.

But a recent study in the journal Environmental Research is finding there is another danger – a disruption in brain development in young children.

The study was conducted at the National Institutes of Health’s NICHD (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development) division, with Dr. Pauline Mendola leading the study and publishing its results.

Building on previous studies which concluded that air pollution and proximity to highways could cause premature birth, low birth weight – even stillbirth – when pregnant women are exposed to pollutants, the new study took the research even further.

Earlier investigation into pregnant women living near high-traffic areas also showed a higher likelihood of developmental delays in their children.

Dr. Mendola and her team wanted to take it one step further.

The researchers wanted to study what, if any, effect living near highways could possibly have on the brain development of infants and young children.

According to Psych Central, the team reviewed data to identify the proximity of participants in the study to major roadways.

They then screened children from infancy to age three using questionnaires about common childhood development milestones in several categories like fine and gross motor skills, communication, socialization, and problem-solving.

The children were screened every four to six months over a lengthy period to come up with their analysis – and it’s startling.

Children who live between 160 feet and less than a half mile from a major roadway were twice as likely to have a developmental “red flag” in one of the categories.

After comparing results gleaned from studies of pregnant women who lived in high-traffic areas, they found that infants and children are at greater risk for developmental delays after birth as particulates directly enter their bloodstream through the lungs.

While they can occur due to exposure in the womb, an unborn child is protected by their mother’s defensive and immune systems in pregnancy.

The numbers can be confusing, but generally speaking, prenatal exposure to pollution particulates led to between a 1.5 – 3 percent increase in developmental delays in the child in one or more areas.

After birth, the number jumps to about a 3.3 percent increase at 8 months, nearly 18 percent at 2 years of age, and another 8 percent increase at two and a half years old.

But the more frightening aspect is, these increases related to failures across the developmental spectrum in all of the testing categories.

The NICHD researchers, as well as those who have conducted previous studies, agree that more information needs to be uncovered.

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The study was conducted in regard to one variable – the proximity to high-traffic areas – and does not take into account other causes or circumstances that may contribute to the increase in developmental delays.

“It is not clear why exposure to pollutants after birth is linked to a higher risk of developmental delay.  However, unlike exposure during pregnancy, exposure during childhood is more direct and does not go through a pregnant woman’s defenses,” said Dr. Sandie Ha, another lead author from the University of California.

Other factors of the highway/developmental delay relationship for children may include distracting noise, lights, and other disruptions that affect not only development, but concentration and performance as they get older.

Mommy Underground previously reported on a related topic, the fact that children who alternatively live near “green spaces” like parks, farms, or large rural areas have a 50 percent lower incidence of mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.

While there is more research to be done on the long-term results of studies like these, one thing seems to be increasingly clear.

Both children and adults benefit from time outdoors where clean air, open spaces, quiet, and tranquility are readily available.  Studies across the board have determined that both our physical and mental health depend on it.

While we often can’t choose where we live due to a variety of circumstances, parents who live in major cities or in high-traffic areas should pay close attention to their child’s health and cognitive development – and provide as much time as possible away from the hustle and bustle.

Did you know about the correlation between living near high-traffic areas and the increase in developmental delays in children?  Leave us your thoughts.

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