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Exposure to Air Pollution While Pregnant Linked to Kids' Behavorial Problems

Pollution isn't just in urban areas. My hometown, Salt Lake City, has one of the highest pollution levels in the country.

Many people move to Utah thinking its mountainous regions contain some of the most pristine air in the country.  They’d be dead wrong.  Bizarrely, the Salt Lake Valley has some of the dirtiest air in the country.

The Salt Lake Valley is where I lived when I was pregnant with both my kids.  Which is why I’m pretty bummed to read about a new study that says pregnant women who expose their unborn babies to air pollution put those kids at an increased risk for behavioral problems later.

As Alice Park writes for TIME Healthland, prenatal exposure to pollutants in city air is linked to later anxiety, depression and behavior problems in children.

There are compounds in pollution – from fossil fuels, tobacco etc… – that are called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that do the most damage to people.  The new study, led by Dr. Frederica Perera at Columbia University, “showed for the first time that expectant women exposed to higher levels of air pollution, and those with the highest levels of PAH in their blood, were more likely to have children who developed anxiety, depression and attention problems by age 6 or 7.”

In the trial involving 253 non smoking inner-city women who gave birth between 1999 and 2006, those with the highest levels of detectable PAH in their homes, as measured by the researchers during the mothers’ third trimester of pregnancy, were 4.5 times more likely to have children with anxiety problems that might qualify for a clinical diagnosis. Perera and her colleagues also measured levels of compounds that PAH form in the blood, to get a sense of how much of the toxin that both the mothers and their babies actually absorbed in their bodies. Women with higher levels of PAH residues in their blood at the time of delivery were 23% more likely to have children scoring higher on the anxiety and depression measures than those with lower levels, and babies who had elevated amounts of PAH in their cord blood were 46% more likely to be anxious or depressed than those with the lowest amounts. The results were similar for attention disorders measured in the children as well.

“You can’t draw conclusions from our results about any single child, or conclude that exposure to PAH causes behavioral symptoms later,” says Perera. “But the results do add to existing evidence that these exposures could have deleterious effects in children.”

Pollution has also previously been linked to a lower IQ in children.

While much of our exposure is beyond our control, particularly in traffic-heavy urban areas where fuel-burning cars are unavoidable, there are some things that moms-to-be can do to protect themselves and their unborn children: Minimize exposure to secondhand smoke. Make sure that rooms are well ventilated when grilling or smoking meats at home. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables that are high in antioxidants, which can counteract some of the harmful effects of PAHs on the genetic integrity of cells.

To read about the study in more depth click on over to Alice Park’s article and check it out.

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