Long-term exposure to tiny air pollution particles is linked to higher blood pressure in teenagers – particularly girls, research shows. Scientists said a million teens could be at risk from car fumes as they called for more research into possible damage to cardiovascular health.
The study by King’s College London boffins tracked exposure of adolescents in deprived areas.
Senior author Seeromanie Harding, a professor of social epidemiology, said: “More than one million under-18s live in neighbourhoods where air pollution is higher than the recommended health standards.
“There is an urgent need for more of these studies to gain an in-depth understanding of the threats to
young people’s development.”
Tiny pollution particles – known as Particulate Matter (PM2.5) – are small enough to be inhaled into the body.
They can make their way into the bloodstream, damaging blood vessels and airways.
For the study, the researchers examined the effects of air pollution on children at 51 schools across London.
They analysed data from 3,284 adolescents, following up from ages 11-13 and 14-16 years old.
The results show PM2.5 particles – that come from car exhaust fumes and industry materials – was associated with higher blood pressure across all ages, particularly among girls.
Conversely, NO2 – a pollutant from diesel traffic – was associated with lower blood pressure in youngsters.
Co-author Dr Andrew Webb, from King’s College London, said: “The effect of NO2 on blood pressure is similar to what we and other researchers have observed previously after ingesting green leafy vegetables or beetroot juice.
“These are rich in dietary nitrate (NO3-), which increases circulating nitrite (NO2-) concentration in the blood and lowers blood pressure.
“It is an effect which may also be sustained over weeks or months with continued ingestion of nitrate-
Researchers also found teens from ethnic minority groups were exposed to higher annual average concentrations of pollution at home than their white UK peers, in the study published in the journal PLOS One.
But, they added, the impact of pollutants on blood pressure did not vary according to ethnicity, weight or economic status.
Corresponding author Dr Alexis Karamanos, from King’s College London, said: “The findings highlight the potential detrimental role of exposure to higher concentrations
of particulate matter on adolescents’ blood pressure levels.
“Further studies following the same adolescents over time in different socio-economic contexts are needed.
“It would allow us to understand whether and how exposure to higher pollutant concentrations may affect differently the cardiovascular health of children and adolescents.”