Stunts Lung Development in Teens
By Karla Gale, Wednesday,
September 8, 2004
(Reuters Health) - Long-term
exposure to air pollution adversely affects lung function in teenagers,
results of The Children's Health Study indicate.
Previous studies of the effects of air pollution
followed young children for only 2 to 4 years, Dr. W. James Gauderman and
colleagues note in their paper, published in The New England Journal of
Medicine. It was not known whether effects of exposure would persist
through adolescence into adulthood.
They therefore followed children from age 10 to
age 18, performing breathing tests each year. The study started with 1759
children enrolled in 1993, but with an attrition rate of approximately 10
percent annually, the final group included 747 subjects in 2001.
Data for various measures of air pollution were
gathered from air monitoring stations set up in each of the 12 southern
California communities where the children lived, and which had various
levels of ambient air pollution.
Gauderman, at the University of
Southern California, Los Angeles, and his colleagues found that children
exposed to high pollutant levels were more likely to have poor lung
function than their peers exposed to low levels.
The effects of air pollutants on lung function
"were similar in boys and girls and remained significant among children
with no history of asthma and among those with no history of smoking," the
authors write, "suggesting that most children are susceptible to the
chronic respiratory effects of breathing polluted air."
As younger adults, those who grew up in polluted
areas will probably not suffer too much, Gauderman told Reuters Health.
"There is some evidence that reduced lung function may translate into more
severe symptoms if they come down with a cold or the flu."
However, "The bigger consequences are likely to
occur later in life, because data show reduced lung function in elderly
patients is a strong risk factor for respiratory disease and heart
disease, as well as death due to those conditions," he continued.
"The concern is that if deficits develop early on
and are carried with them throughout life, they'll be at increased risk
for these conditions at a younger age or perhaps at risk for more severe
forms of those illnesses."
The solution "rests on reduced emissions and
regulatory decisions that keep pressure on reducing air pollution levels,"
From one standpoint, these findings represent
"good news," Dr. C. Arden Pope, III, at Brigham Young
University in Provo, Utah, comments in an accompanying editorial. Air
pollution is just one of many risk factors for pulmonary and
cardiovascular disease, but it is modifiable. Therefore, he suggests, "The
control of air pollution represents an important opportunity to prevent
SOURCE: The New England Journal of Medicine, September 9,