Researchers believe air pollution has a negative impact on cognitive performance.
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It's emerged that the air you breathe could damage your intelligence. A joint American and Chinese study found that chronic exposure to air pollution can seriously harm your cognitive performance.
The BBC’s Alice Porter told me more about the research. This was done over a four-year period where the math and verbal skills of some 20,000 people in China were closely monitored. So, we then compared the results with the level of pollutants in the air at the time, and their findings - they've been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And they found that high pollution levels led to a significant drop in test scores. So, they concluded that the longer people were exposed to dirty air the greater the damage to their cognitive performance with the average impact equivalent to having lost a year of the person's education which is enormous.
And this study, they’ve also suggested pollution also increases the risk of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Now that's something we've seen before with previous studies and also previous research has found that air pollution does harm cognitive performance. But it appears that this study this is the first one to examine people of all ages and the difference between men and women. What came out which was particularly striking was that the people who came out worse in the study were elderly people men. And I think most interestingly those who were less educated.
And why is that happening.
Well one of the reasons is, sort of put forward by some of the researchers, is that group that I just mentioned, particularly men, they're more likely to be working outdoors in manual jobs and they're more likely to be exposed to toxic air. Now you may be thinking well if you’re perhaps a farmer working out in the fields surely the air will be cleaner. You'd be away from toxic air. But actually, if we think of India which has hit the headlines a lot for pollution, a study in January found that 75 percent of deaths related to air pollution in India was in rural areas. So, for those people who are less educated who are outdoors more impacts on their lifestyle and also the way that these toxic fumes affect them.
Now, Dr. Shi Chan is one of the researchers who was involved with this study.
In people’s brain, there are two type of main tissues: one is white matter and one is grey matter. The white matter is more regulating the mathematics and the language skills. So if a certain individual with lower education working outdoors for a longer period of time, so their white matters can already being shrinked by air pollution. So that means giving the same dose of air pollution, they are more vulnerable than people with high education.
Now that was Dr Shi there but of course this has implications not just in China but around the world. The World Health Organization says more than 90 percent of people are breathing in unsafe air.
And I think this study will certainly raise questions about the personal impact for those people who are regularly exposed to pollution.