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Air Pollution and Maternal Distress Tied to Abnormal Behavior in Children

Update Date: Oct 07, 2013 10:48 AM EDT

Air pollution has been linked to various conditions like asthma, birth defects and cancer, and scientists have recently linked it to abnormal behavioral development in children.

A new study revealed that maternal psychological distress combined with exposure to air pollution during pregnancy can have a negative impact on the child's behavioral development.

Researchers at the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health at the Mailman School of Public Health linked maternal demoralization to a number of behavioral problems like anxiety, depression, attention and conduct problems and aggressive behavior in children. What's more, the effects of demoralization were magnified among children with higher levels of prenatal exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) in air pollution.

PAHs are potent air pollutants that have been identified as carcinogenic, mutagenic, and teratogenic. They often produced as byproducts generated by combustion sources like motor vehicles, coral-fired power plants, residential heating and tobacco smoke. Previous studies have linked high prenatal exposure of PAH to lower IQ, childhood asthma, low birth weight, premature delivery and heat defects.

"This study shows that the combination of physical and psychosocial stressors during fetal development magnifies the effect of each exposure," lead author Frederica Perera, DrPH, PhD, said in a news release. "The findings are of concern because attention problems and anxiety and depression have been shown to affect peer relationships, academic performance, and future well- being of children."

The latest study claims to be the first to evaluate the interaction between PAH and maternal demoralization on a variety of behavioral problems in childhood.

Researchers looked at data from 248 Polish mother-child pairs from pregnancy through nine years of age. Personal air sampling was completed during pregnancy to estimate prenatal PAH exposure and behavioral problems were assessed using the Child Behavioral Checklist. Researchers measured maternal demoralization by looking at analyzing the answers from questionnaires completed during the second trimester.

The latest findings are published in the journal Pediatrics

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