Health related research studies that recognize links between psychological dynamics and environmental factors provide a firsthand look into the significance of the relationship between the two.
A study looking into psychological distress and air pollution exposure during maternal periods found that these can later have a negative effect on child behavior.
Researchers from the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health at the Mailman School of Public Health conducted the study, which was recently published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. It is a pioneering effort in that it attributes a relationship among mental states during pregnancy and air pollution levels, and how they can impact child development even many years later.
The longitudinal study followed 248 children from the prenatal period up until 9 years of age. It was conducted in Krakow, Poland where burning coal and automobile emissions are a wide spread source of air pollution, as comparative to other urban areas where impurities in the air can be concentrated. During pregnancy the mothers completed checklists as well as other psychiatric assessments and wore monitors that recorded air toxicity levels.
The investigation pointed to the mixture of the mothers’ stressors with exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) during pregnancy. PAH are pollutants in the air that are caused by things like automobiles and other vehicle emissions, heating systems, power plant facilities and tobacco smoke.
The results somewhat expectedly showed that psychological suffering that was great enough to affect a mother’s capacity to deal with stress was associated with various latter behavioral issues in their children. However, the study further found that the negative effects were actually the highest in children who also had a history of prenatal exposure to elevated levels of air pollution.
Mothers who have problems coping with heightened stress levels may have depression, anxiety, aggressiveness or attention problems, among other issues, the researchers pointed out. This in combination with reduced air quality from PAH environmental pollutants can potentially lead to greater risk of developmental and neurobehavioral issues in children.
The findings regarding psychological stress and exposure to air pollutants during pregnancy are significant for further understanding just how internal and outer environmental factors can affect both parents and children.
The researchers noted the importance of improving air quality in cities and to provide more effective routine screening programs for women during prenatal care.
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