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The research conducted by Special Needs Week and reported on this site has revealed an alarmingly high number of children who are seen to be suffering from mental health problems.

The findings have led to much concern as to the cause of the issue.  Is it that we are just recognising mental health issues for what they are, or is there a real growth in this type of special need?

Now a new study published in June 2016 has linked air pollution to increased mental illness in children, and this appears to be having an effect even at low levels of pollution.

The research published in the peer-reviewed journal BMJ Open examined the pollution exposure of more than 500,000 under-18s in Sweden and compared this with records of a very wide array of  medicines prescribed for mental illnesses.

“The results can mean that a lower concentration of air pollution, first and foremost from traffic, may reduce psychiatric disorders in children and adolescents,” said Anna Oudin, at Umeå University, who led the study. “I would be worried myself if I lived in an area with high air pollution.”

Professor Frank Kelly at King’s College London added, “This builds on existing evidence that children are particularly sensitive to poor air quality probably because their lifestyles increase the dose of air pollution they are exposed too - ie they are more active - and that developing organs may be more vulnerable until they fully mature.”

What makes this particular worrying for residents of Britain is that air pollution in the UK is above legal limits in many parts of the country.

The EU and World Health Organisation limit for nitrogen dioxide is 40mg/m3, but levels can be exceeded by two or three times in some cities.  The research concluded that a 10mg/m3 increase in nitrogen dioxide corresponded to a nine percent increase in mental illness in children.

What makes this even more worrying for UK residents is that Sweden has low levels of air pollution compared with the UK, but the research nevertheless found a link between pollution and mental health issues even at very low levels.

“Sweden is not a country that suffers from very bad air quality,” said Professor Kelly. “This suggests that other countries and cities have an even bigger challenge, as they will have to make significant improvements to their air quality so that it is even cleaner than Sweden’s.”

Anne Oudin added the warning that, “In all the air pollution studies I have been involved in, the effects seem to be linear,” suggesting that as pollution increases, so will mental illness in children.

“We know air pollution can get into bodies and brains and cause inflammation.   Animal studies indicate that inflammation is associated with a range of psychiatric disorders.  There have also been several earlier studies that found associations between air pollution and autism spectrum disorders and learning and development in children.

“This study adds to evidence that air pollution may have detrimental effects on the brains of children and adolescents.”

In May 2016, the Guardian newspaper published a previously unrevealed air pollution report that demonstrated that 433 schools in London are located in areas that exceed EU limits for nitrogen dioxide pollution and that these are overwhelmingly in the poorer parts of London.

Also in the same month a World Health Organisation report concluded that air pollution was rising at an “alarming rate” in the world’s cities.

The new Swedish research ends by saying “The severe impact of child and adolescent mental health problems on society, together with the plausible and preventable association of exposure to air pollution, deserves special attention.”