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Air pollution increases future disease risk in children

Researchers in the United States (U.S.) have found that children that are exposed to air pollution, such as wildfire smoke and car exhaust, for as little as one day could be doomed to higher rates of heart disease and other ailments in adulthood. These are the results of a new Stanford-led study analysis, published in the ‘Scientific Reports’.

The findings confirms previous research that bad air can alter gene regulation in a way that may impact long-term health—a finding that could change the way medical experts and parents think about the air children breathe, and inform clinical interventions for those exposed to chronic elevated air pollution. The study lead author, Mary Prunicki, said: “I think this is compelling enough for a paediatrician to say that we have evidence air pollution causes changes in the immune and cardiovascular system associated not only with asthma and respiratory diseases, as has been shown before.

“It looks like even brief air pollution exposure can actually change the regulation and expression of children’s genes and perhaps alter blood pressure, potentially laying the foundation for increased risk of disease later in life.” Prunicki is the Director of Air Pollution and Health Research at Stanford’s Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy & Asthma Research.

The researchers studied a predominantly Hispanic group of children, ages six to eight in Fresno, California, a city beset with some of the country’s highest air pollution levels due to industrial agriculture and wildfires, among other sources. Using a combination of continuous daily pollutant concentrations measured at central air monitoring stations in Fresno, daily concentrations from periodic spatial sampling and meteorological and geophysical data, the study team estimated average air pollution exposures for one day, one week and one, three, six and 12 months prior to each participant visit. When combined with health and demographics questionnaires, blood pressure readings and blood samples, the data began to paint a troubling picture. They found that exposure to fine particulate known as PM2.5, carbon monoxide and ozone over time is linked to increased methylation, an alteration of DNA molecules that can change their activity without changing their sequence.

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