New Study Claims Air Pollution Can Cause 'Huge' Reduction in Intelligence

Tuesday, 28 August 2018 - 12:48PM
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Tuesday, 28 August 2018 - 12:48PM
New Study Claims Air Pollution Can Cause 'Huge' Reduction in Intelligence
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Residents of Beijing are all too familiar with the physical health effects of air pollution—like the 'Beijing cough'—but a new study has revealed that pollution may have a much more insidious effect on the mind. According to the paper, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, air pollution in China has the potential to erase an entire year of education when it comes to cognitive ability.

The research used data from the China Family Panel Studies, which provided language and arithmetic tests to roughly 20,000 people over four years, then compared the results to the levels of nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide pollution. They found a striking correlation between higher levels of pollution and a decrease in test scores over the years, and concluded that air pollutants were affecting the brains of the participants. According to Derrick Ho, of Hong Kong Polytechnic University, "It is because high air pollution can potentially be associated with oxidative stress, neuroinflammation, and neurodegeneration of humans."

Xi Chen, of the Yale School of Public Health, brought home the impact of these findings: "Polluted air can cause everyone to reduce their level of education by one year, which is huge. But we know the effect is worse for the elderly, especially those over 64, and for men, and for those with low education. If we calculate [the loss] for those, it may be a few years of education." The new study found other interesting results, including evidence that air pollution affects men more strongly than women and that language faculties were hit harder than mathematical faculties.

One of the difficulties of proving that China's air pollution (like Beijing's infamous smog) is a major health risk is that most serious medical conditions take time to develop, while major air pollution in China is relatively new. This new study may be a wake-up call for China, which only recently began fighting back against pollution, as well as the rest of the developing world. Though Chinese cities make up a good portion of the list of the world's most polluted cities, some of the worst offenders are found in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and India—all of which may be hurting their residents in ways no one knew.
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