DALLAS, Texas — Even as pandemic safety regulations fade away, there may be a very good reason for kids to keep wearing face masks. A recent study finds exposure to air pollution can lead to high blood pressure in children. Even if they avoid the condition during adolescence, breathing in that pollution can also increase their risk of developing high blood pressure as an adult.
Researchers looked at more than 350,000 children between five and 12 years-old from the United States, China, and Europe. The team analyzed 14 different studies, looking at the effects of different sized particles on children’s blood pressure.
Results show that short-term exposure for less than 30 days to larger, coarse particles is still enough to significantly raise systolic blood pressure. This is top number on a blood pressure reading which shows the pressure in your arteries during the contraction of the heart muscle.
Study authors discovered the same result for children exposed to fine particles and nitrogen dioxide from traffic pollution over a longer period. Longer term exposure to both types of particles also raised diastolic pressure; the bottom number counting the resistance to the blood flow in the blood vessels.
“Our analysis is the first to closely examine previous research to assess both the quality and magnitude of the associations between air pollution and blood pressure values among children and adolescents,” says study lead author Professor Yao Lu in a media release.
“The findings provide evidence of a positive association between short- and long-term exposure to certain environmental air pollutants and blood pressure in children and adolescents.”
Preventing high blood pressure needs to start during childhood
Previous studies have revealed that a child’s lungs may breathe in higher concentrations of ambient particles than adults. This suggests that children could be at greater risk from the adverse effects of air pollution.
High blood pressure during childhood and adolescence is also a risk factor for hypertension and heart disease in adulthood. However, studies looking at the effect of air pollution on adolescents have produced inconsistent conclusions.
The team divided the studies into groups based upon length of exposure to air pollution and by composition of air pollutants. Specifically, researchers examined nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter with a diameter of either 10 micrometers (coarse) or 2.5 micrometers (fine).
Prof. Lu, from the Clinical Research Center at the Third Xiangya Hospital at Central South University in Changsha, China, reports that both short-term and long-term exposure to ambient air pollutants increased blood pressure values among young children and adolescents.
“To reduce the impact of environmental pollution on blood pressure in children and adolescents, efforts should be made to reduce their exposure to environmental pollutants,” Lu adds. “Additionally, it is also very important to routinely measure blood pressure in children and adolescents, which can help us identify individuals with elevated blood pressure early.”
Study authors emphasize that the results do have some limitations, including a lack of data on possible interactions between different pollutants.
The findings appear in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
SWNS writer Jim Leffman contributed to this report.