Medicine

Traffic pollution putting unborn babies' health at risk, experts warn

Traffic pollution putting unborn babies' health at risk, experts warn

Transient subjection to traffic exhaust in built up locations like New York City's Broadway or Chicago's Michigan Avenue can annul the positive outcomes of a two hour walk which would have benefitted the heart and lungs of these people. One was a quieter area in Hyde Park, while the other was along a busier section of Oxford Street, where pollution usually exceeds the air quality limits set by the World Health Organization.

The volunteers were asked to take two-hour walks at midday in two London settings: a busy section of Oxford Street (which regularly exceeds global air quality limits) and a relatively quiet, traffic-free area of Hyde Park.

"As long as American automakers drag their feet on fuel standards and other sustainability regulations, they're showing that they care more about their short-term financial interests than they do about long-term benefits for public health, the planet, and even the economy", she said.

Researchers said the findings apply to other cities across the United Kingdom and Europe and are calling for policies to improve air quality in urban areas. Not surprisingly, the Oxford Street setting had significantly higher levels of both, including greater amounts of black carbon, nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter.

In healthy participants, walking in Hyde Park led to an improvement in measures of lung capacity (average 7.5% increase in FEV1 at five hours after the start of the walk) and arterial stiffness (5% decrease in pulse wave velocity on average after three hours) that persisted for up to 26 hours. By comparison, a walk up and down Oxford Street led to only a small increase in lung capacity in participants - far lower than recorded in the park.

This effect was drastically reduced when walking along Oxford Street, however, with a maximum change in arterial stiffness of just 4.6 per cent for healthy volunteers, 16 per cent for those with COPD and 8.6 per cent for heart disease.

United Kingdom researchers explored the benefits of walking in people over the age of 60 and compared the impact on their health when they walked along polluted urban streets versus in the open spaces of a park. "Our study suggests that we might advise these people to walk in green spaces, away from built-up areas and pollution from traffic". They also occur among healthy people, the study found.

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"I think it might well do". The volunteers are a little more vulnerable to the effects of pollution than the average healthy person 20 years younger. The study also had people take only two short walks.

The conclusion was reached by scientists from Imperial College London, who measured the health boosts that people aged over 60 received from a brisk walk in the capital.

"This paper highlights the risks to health by walking along polluted roads for the over-60s with specific pre-existing medical conditions", added Ian Colbeck, professor of environmental science at the University of Essex.

One piece of research, by teams at the Centre for Diet and Activity Research at the University of Cambridge, found that the benefits of walking and cycling outweigh the negative effects of air pollution - the converse of this new study. "It's important to that people continue to exercise".

In the United Kingdom, polluted air contributes to about 40,000 deaths a year, almost a quarter of them in London. More than this, it would seem that pollution, in large part related to traffic emissions, has an immediate adverse effect on those with chronic diseases such as COPD and cardiovascular diseases.

They argue the study should "increase awareness that prenatal exposure to small particle air pollution is detrimental to the unborn child", but stress that increasing awareness without solutions "may serve only to increase maternal anxiety and guilt".


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