Written by Alyssa Walker

Air pollution may harm more than just your lungs, according to a new US-China study.  

The study examined the math and verbal skills of 20,000 people in China over years.

While researchers established a clear link between pollution and low test scores on math and verbal skills, the study did not prove cause and effect.

Researchers from Beijing’s Peking University and Yale University measured the amount of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particulates smaller than 10 micrometers. They did not include carbon monoxide, ozone, or larger particulates.

The study said, “We provide evidence that the effect of air pollution on verbal tests becomes more pronounced as people age, especially for men and the less educated.”

According to the BBC, one of the co-authors, Xi Chen at the Yale School of Public Health, said, “Our sample enables us to examine the impact of air pollution as people age. So our results across the life course are quite new.”

Derrick Ho of Hong Kong Polytechnic, who has studied health effects of extreme weather events, told the BBC, “This latest study matches with previous research.”

He added, "What's new in this paper is the focus on the China scenario and the fact that it's a very detailed study compared to many other ones. Also the differentiation between gender and age in this detail is new."

That’s right: age and gender play a role. The study found that older men with less education are more susceptible to the cognitive effects of air pollution.

Why older men with less education? They are more likely to work outdoors for long periods of time with longer exposure to the air.

The study concluded, “Our findings about the damaging effect of air pollution on cognition, particularly on the aging brain, imply that the indirect effect on social welfare could be much larger than previously thought."

The researchers explain that although the study focused on China, it lends insight on other developing countries with serious air pollution.

Learn more about public health.




Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.
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