City Pollution Stunts Lung Growth in Kids

Moving to suburbs spurs lung development, finds study

THURSDAY, Dec. 27, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Thinking about getting away from the hustle and bustle of city life? Here's another reason to pack up and head for the country: It may be good for your child's lungs.

Researchers from the University of Southern California found that when kids moved from urban areas to suburban or rural areas, their lungs worked better.

"We found that students who made a cleaner move had improved rates of lung function growth. Those that moved to a more polluted area had slowed growth rates," says lead researcher Edward Avol, associate professor of preventative medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles.

Children who have decreased lung function in their teen years may be at increased risk for respiratory problems later in life, says Avol.

Avol and his colleagues studied 110 children who had lived in southern California but moved to other areas in California, Oregon, Nevada, Washington, Arizona or Utah. They first tested the children at age 10, then at age 15.

The children completed a questionnaire and underwent lung-function tests, and the scientists compiled data on the levels of pollution in each community. The researchers then compared the results of the 110 movers with about 1,000 of their peers who had stayed in southern California, says Avol.

The results: Moving caused measurable changes in lung function growth rate; on average, lung function growth increased for kids who moved to areas with less pollution and decreased for kids who moved to a more polluted area.

"Cleaner air does have a measurable lung function benefit," says Avol.

Findings appear in the current issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

"This is an important paper looking at the respiratory effects of levels of air pollution," says Dr. Marianne Frieri, director of Allergy and Immunology at Nassau University Medical Center, in East Meadow, N.Y. "Over time [the decreased lung function] could contribute to more adverse effects, especially if these kids start smoking," she says. Frieri says more studies are needed to confirm this one.

What To Do

Should you start packing if you live in the city? No, says Avol. "There's no guarantee that if you move from one place to another that there will be a change." He says the study results are an average of all the kids, which means that not every child was affected the same way.

He says concerned parents should let their legislators know they'd like them to clean the air quality in their area.

To protect your child's lung function, both Avol and Frieri recommend keeping your kids away from smokers.

Avol suggests a good diet and plenty of exercise. Frieri says it's also important to prevent early life exposures to allergens, like dust mites and mold.

For more information on how air quality affects the lungs, go to the American Lung Association. Check your location on this map to see how polluted your area is.

To learn more about how the lungs work, read this article from Cornell University Medical College.

SOURCES: Interviews with Edward Avol, Ph.D., associate professor of research in preventative medicine, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles; Marianne Frieri, director, Allergy and Immunology, Nassau University Medical Center, East Meadow, N.Y., professor of medicine, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, N.Y.; December 2001 American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine
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