Around four in 10 Americans live in places where smog can impact their health. Children and teens are especially vulnerable to higher levels of ozone in the air associated with smog. According to the American Lung Association, more than 32 million children live in U.S. counties that received a grade of “F” for air pollution.
While air quality in the U.S. has improved over the last decade, the health of many children remains at risk. If you live in an area with smog or other forms of air pollution, here are three ways your kids can be harmed.
More than 7 million American children have asthma. Close to 3 million of them live in counties with very poor ratings for air pollution. Incidents of asthma attacks and resulting hospitalizations are higher in these areas.
Not only does smog aggravate asthma in children who already suffer from the disease, some research points to the increased likelihood that smog can cause the onset of asthma. The Southern California Children’s Health Study found that some children were diagnosed with asthma during adolescence due to higher ozone levels in the air.
2. Reduced lung function
Prolonged exposure to smog and other forms of air pollution can result in reduced lung function in children. The lungs aren’t fully developed until adulthood. Kids who spend a lot of time outside in areas with air pollutants are more likely to have underdeveloped lungs.
Research found that children in more polluted areas had lung capacity of 20% less than what was expected for their age. That’s similar to results from kids who lived in homes where their parents smoked. Another study concluded that living just four years in a region with high ozone levels associated with smog was linked to reduced lung function and other respiratory problems.
Studies now show that smog could even be connected with rare forms of cancer in children. A presentation at the American Association for Cancer Research in April noted that higher exposure to traffic-related air pollution increased the odds of children developing cancer.
This research, conducted by scientists at UCLA, examined data from 3,950 children born between 1998 and 2007 who were diagnosed with cancer before age six. The scientists used a modeling program to determine how much air pollution each child was exposed to prior to developing cancer.
Living in highly polluted areas increased the likelihood by 4% that a child would be diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The risk level jumped by 17% for cancers of the ovaries, testicles, and other organs, and 14% for eye cancer. At this point, though, the research only establishes a correlation between smog and cancer rates. A direct cause-and-effect linkage has not yet been documented.
On the move
These findings could make some parents prefer to live in areas with cleaner air. If you’re looking for clean parts of the country, try Florida or the Dakotas. According to the American Lung Association’s “State of the Air” report, the cities with the cleanest air quality in the nation were Bismarck, N.D.; Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla.; Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, Fla.; and Rapid City, S.D.
Of course, even relocation wouldn’t undo the damage inflicted on children who have already developed asthma or other conditions as a result of smog. There is some good news, though.