Everyone is at risk for health complications caused by poor air quality however children face greater challenges and are at a higher risk for developing severe reactions from poor air quality. Adverse health effects ranging from respiratory troubles, decrease brain development to even death have all been documented caused by poor air quality. Knowing what the problem is and educating ourselves is the first step to making changes for a healthier lifestyle.
Children, including those developing in-utero, are rapidly changing and developing. Nine months might sound like a long time for some and it certainly feels like a lifetime when you’re pregnant but in the grand scheme of life it’s really very fast for a baby to go from simple cells to tiny miracles at birth. However, it doesn’t stop there. A child’s brain is 80% developed by age three- learning language, developing motor skills, learning how to interact with the world through their senses as well as gaining knowledge about the people around them.(1). It’s quite amazing! After birth babies’’ respiratory and cardiovascular systems continue to develop and mature. The respiratory system matures over the next several months. During that time the lungs and airways are more fragile. Breathing is more taxing however a baby requires more oxygen during this time. Their cardiovascular system, in the womb, is designed to take in blood from the mother through the placenta(4). There are actually extra pathways for the blood to travel to the mother and completely bypass the fetuses’ lungs. This is known as fetal circulation after birth the infant’s body continues to mature and use their lungs to oxygenate their blood while also closing those extra pathways that were once used to connect to the mother’s placenta.(2). I think I could read and write about this all day. It’s incredibly fascinating how our bodies work however all this growth means they are vulnerable to influences that might hinder their development during this critical time.
Numerous studies have found that air pollution is linked to more cases of respiratory problems and illnesses in children. California also did a study over numerous years with children ages 10 to 18 and found that after long-term exposure to air pollution they showed signs of permanently reduced lung growth. (3). Another study with Yale students showed that after just 4 years of living in areas with higher ozone levels and other air pollutants the students had a significant reduction in lung function as well as other respiratory problems. While a few bouts of the cold or flu in a child may help build up their immune system, long-term exposure is the real danger here and will only exacerbate the respiratory troubles as they get older.
Whether our children are still growing and developing during those first years or learning to mature into adulthood, they are a vulnerable population when it comes to air pollution. In the Next few weeks I’ll continue to explore our higher risk peoples as well as provide some practical steps we can take together and individually to help make this a safer world and give you a healthier home and life.