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New Research Links Air Pollution to Mental Illness in Children

The Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center has released three new studies highlighting the relationship between air pollution and mental health in children.

Earlier this week, Environmental Health Perspectives published a new study that shows short-term exposure to air pollution is associated with exacerbated psychiatric disorders in children as early as one or two days after exposure, and children in disadvantaged neighborhoods seem to be even more susceptible.

Says one of the study’s lead authors, Dr. Cole Brokamp:

This study is the first to show an association between daily outdoor air pollution levels and increased symptoms of psychiatric disorders, like anxiety and suicidality, in children. More research is needed to confirm these findings, but it could lead to new prevention strategies for children experiencing symptoms related to a psychiatric disorder. The fact that children living in high poverty neighborhoods experienced greater health effects of air pollution could mean that pollutant and neighborhood stressors can have synergistic effects on psychiatric symptom severity and frequency.

That’s not the only recent study linking air pollution to mental illness in children, either; Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center published two others, both in Environmental Research and both of which deal with an association between high traffic related air pollution (TRAP) exposure and reports of depression and anxiety symptoms in children.

So, what can we do for our children — especially those who live in areas of high air pollution?

I’m afraid (and concerned) that I didn’t find a ton of answers, but I’ll share what I did manage to scrape up:

1. Check the Air Quality Index (AQI)

The Air Quality Index (AQI) is a daily reporting of the air quality in your region and helps you understand how the day’s air quality can affect your health. It’s divided into six categories (good, moderate, unhealthy for sensitive groups, unhealthy, very unhealthy, and hazardous) and it’s recommended that children stick to “good” and “moderate” days if there’s to be prolonged or heavy exertion (think: any activity that has your child gulping in a lot of air) outdoors.

2. Plan Getaways Accordingly

Most people don’t have the budget and time off to take tons of vacations each year; however, when you do take vacation — or manage to get away for a weekend — why not plan a trip to one of the cleanest cities in the country? The American Lung Association has ranked many U.S. cities based on air quality including Wilmington, North Carolina; Honolulu, Hawaii; and Roanoke, Virginia.

3. Don’t Forget Indoor Air Pollution

Air pollution doesn’t just affect the outdoors, and chances are:

  • Your child spends more hours indoors than outdoors, overall.
  • On days with high AQI, you’ll want to keep your kid inside.

So, when safely possible it’s important to:

  • Not smoke indoors and around children (and really at all, OK?).
  • Make sure your kitchen is ventilated for cooking.
  • Avoid burning candles and using air fresheners (like plugins).

4. Focus On Long-Term Steps, Too

Of course, we can also begin or continue taking steps to prevent or minimize air pollution, such as:

  • Walking, riding your bike, taking public transportation, and organizing carpools.
  • Using gas logs instead of burning wood.
  • Using environmentally safe paints and cleaning products.
  • Avoiding burning leaves and trash.
  • Combining errands to reduce the number of trips.

Get more at the EPA’s Actions You Can Take to Reduce Air Pollution.

Talk to me! How’s the general air quality in your area? Do you take precautions to help minimize your child’s exposure to air pollution? Do you have any personal experience with air pollution’s effects on mental health?

New Research Links Air Pollution to Mental Illness in Children

Alicia Sparks

Alicia Sparks is a freelance writer and editor and the creator of, where she blogs to help new freelance writers get their quills in the pot, so to speak. Among animal rights, music, and physical wellness, her passions include mental health and advocacy. Here at Psych Central she works as Syndication Editor as well as authors Your Body, Your Mind, Unleash Your Creativity, and World of Psychology's weekly "Psychology Around the Net."

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APA Reference
Sparks, A. (2019). New Research Links Air Pollution to Mental Illness in Children. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 7 Oct 2019
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