Adults who live in areas with high air pollution are more likely to have multiple long-term health problems – Zoo House News
- December 4, 2022
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Exposure to traffic-related air pollution is linked to an increased likelihood of having several long-term physical and mental health problems, according to a new study of more than 364,000 people in England.
Led by researchers from King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IoPPN), this is the world’s largest study examining whether exposure to air pollution is linked to the occurrence of multiple long-term health problems.
Multimorbidity is defined as the presence of two or more physical or mental illnesses and affects 27 per cent of adults in UK primary care. It increases the use of health services and the cost of primary and secondary care, but its link to air pollution has not been studied in the UK.
The study, published in Frontiers in Public Health, showed that high levels of traffic-related air pollution — particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) — were associated with an increased risk of at least two long-term health conditions. The strongest associations were seen with co-occurring neurological, respiratory, cardiovascular, and common mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.
This research was funded by the Maudsley Biomedical Research Center of the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) and the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) South London.
dr Amy Ronaldson, research associate at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), King’s College London and first author of the study, said: “People with more than one long-term condition have a lower quality of life and are more dependent on the healthcare system. Our NIHR-funded research has shown that people living in areas with higher levels of traffic-related air pollution are at greater risk of having multiple health problems. The study does not prove that air pollution causes multimorbidity, but it warrants further research in this area. It could be that simple actions to reduce traffic can make life better and ease the pressure on our healthcare systems.”
The researchers analyzed data from the UK Biobank – a large-scale biomedical database and research resource containing anonymised genetic, lifestyle and health information from half a million UK participants. between the ages of 40 and 69. The participants were examined for 36 physical and five chronic mental illnesses. Multimorbidity was defined as having two or more of these conditions.
Physical and mental health data from the UK Biobank from 2010 was linked to the estimated concentration of air pollution at the participants’ residential address.
The study found that participants exposed to higher levels of particulate matter (above 10 µg/m3) had a 21 percent increased risk of having two or more diseases at the same time, compared to those exposed to levels below 10 µg/m3 were.
For participants exposed to more than 30 µg/m3 NO2, the study showed a 20 percent increased risk of having two or more concomitant diseases compared to participants exposed to NO2 concentrations lower than 20 µg/m3 were.
In those with multiple conditions, increased exposure to both PM2.5 and NO2 was associated with greater severity of co-occurring conditions.
dr Ioannis Bakolis, Reader at IoPPN, King’s College London and senior author of the study, said: “How air pollution affects multiple organs and systems simultaneously is not yet fully understood, but there is some evidence that mechanisms such as inflammation, oxidative Stress and immune activation could be triggered by airborne particles that can damage the brain, heart, blood, lungs and intestines.
“Our study suggests that through common mechanisms, air pollution may negatively impact multiple body systems and increase the likelihood of people developing multiple long-term health problems. More research is needed to understand how air pollution affects different body systems, but it could be that tackling air pollution could help prevent and mitigate the debilitating effects of several long-term health problems.
The researchers identified several patterns in the associations: the strongest links were primarily between diseases of the respiratory system (asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and the cardiovascular system (atrial fibrillation, coronary artery disease, heart failure), but also with neurological and general mental diseases (stroke, substance abuse, depression, anxiety).
The study “Associations between air pollution and multimorbidity in the UK Biobank: A cross-sectional study” was published in Frontiers in Public Health.
This study was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Center in South London and the Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London and the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration South London.