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Teenagers at Higher Risk of Irregular Heartbeat in Polluted Areas

kokou adzo

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Air pollution is a growing concern, and the impact on our health is well documented. For some people, air pollution can have a devastating effect, and that includes teenagers. A recent study has highlighted that teenagers in polluted areas have an increased risk of irregular heartbeat, also known as arrhythmia.

What Is an Arrhythmia?

Irregular heartbeat or arrhythmia is a condition that occurs when the heart beats over or under what is considered normal or beats in an irregular rhythm. Arrhythmias are common, and most of them are harmless. However, some types of arrhythmias can cause significant health problems such as stroke, heart failure, and sudden cardiac arrest, which could be fatal.

Arrhythmias can have several causes, including heart disease, high blood pressure, electrolyte imbalances, and stress. However, according to the latest research, air pollution can also cause arrhythmias.

The Study and Its Findings

Groundbreaking research conducted by King’s College London has revealed the alarming impact of pollution on children’s health. Through the analysis of eight studies involving approximately 15,000 children aged 10 to 19, the researchers focused on the effects of microscopic PM2.5 and PM10 particles – commonly found in car exhaust fumes and car tire fragments – on their blood pressure. The results were staggering: children exposed to higher levels of these pollutants at the age of 12 experienced significantly elevated blood pressure.

Inhalation of air pollution particles can enter the bloodstream and cause damage to blood vessel linings. This can result in a decrease in blood vessel elasticity and increased hardness, leading to elevated blood pressure. This heightened risk of high blood pressure in adulthood subsequently increases the likelihood of heart attacks and strokes. Equally concerning is the correlation between obesity and pollution, with overweight and obese children seeing nearly double the rise in blood pressure when exposed to heightened levels of ozone and sulphur dioxide – pollutants primarily generated by car fumes and coal burning. 

Professor Seeromanie Harding, who spearheaded this important scientific review, emphasises the significance of these findings in the context of children’s heightened exposure to pollution through outdoor activities and socialising. 

Previous research on the impact of air pollution on children has been inconclusive, primarily based on studies conducted in highly polluted areas such as China. However, a new scientific review that includes studies from Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark – countries with similar pollution levels to the UK – provides additional insights.

The review revealed that children exposed to higher levels of PM10 and nitrogen dioxide generally had higher blood pressure, although this association was not statistically significant, possibly due to a limited number of participants in the studies. However, the most significant finding from the review was that children aged 12, who were exposed to higher levels of PM2.5 and PM10 for a year or longer, exhibited significantly higher diastolic blood pressure. Diastolic blood pressure is the lower number in a blood pressure reading and indicates the pressure between heartbeats. Furthermore, prolonged exposure to elevated PM10 levels in 12-year-olds has been proven to have a substantial correlation with increased systolic blood pressure. Systolic blood pressure refers to the higher number in a blood pressure reading, denoting the pressure in the arteries during heartbeats.

There was no significant link observed between short-term pollution exposure and blood pressure in the studies, but the researchers highlighted potential flaws in the data collection process. The studies primarily relied on air quality measurements around children’s homes, neglecting the fact that children spend most of their time at school.

Professor Harding emphasises the importance of further research and the need for protective measures to safeguard children’s health. Previous evidence indicates that diastolic blood pressure increases by approximately seven points between the ages of 10 and 19. The new findings demonstrate a rise of around five points attributed to pollution, which represents a significant percentage. Considering these findings, additional research, getting more information, and proactive measures are critical to ensuring the well-being of children concerning air pollution.

Good Health Is a Right

Clean air is a fundamental human right, and poor air quality should not be an excuse for denying people their right to good health. Governments must act now to curb air pollution, and industries must take responsibility for reducing their pollution footprint. Consumers can also take action to hold manufacturers accountable for diesel claims

The evidence linking air pollution to adverse health effects continues to mount, with research demonstrating that even low levels of pollution can have harmful effects on heart health. The risk to vulnerable groups such as children and teenagers is particularly concerning, highlighting the need for urgent action to tackle this public health crisis.

The air we breathe affects everyone, and the negative health implications of air pollution should not be down to individuals’ responsibility alone – it is a global problem that requires collective action. We must act now to secure a healthier and greener future for our children and future generations. 

Kokou Adzo is the editor and author of Startup.info. He is passionate about business and tech, and brings you the latest Startup news and information. He graduated from university of Siena (Italy) and Rennes (France) in Communications and Political Science with a Master's Degree. He manages the editorial operations at Startup.info.

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