In a new Swedish study researchers have found that children exposed to air pollution can have improved lung function in adulthood if the levels of pollution are reduced.
Previous studies have shown that urban children ingest more air pollution than children in smaller towns, even though they generally spend less time outdoors. At the same time, air pollution in Stockholm has decreased over the last 20 years, so researchers have been studying the lung capacity of children and young people for a longer period of time.
Medicial university Karolinska Institutet, together with Stockholm County Council, launched the BAMSE project in the mid-1990s, which has since followed around 4,000 children born between 1994 and 1996. The project stands for Barn (children), Allergi (allergy), Miljö (environment), Stockholm and Epidemiologi (epidemiology), and has conducted research on these topics over the years.
In a new study published by mainly Swedish researchers in the European Respiratory Journal, the lung functions of children aged 8, 16 and 24 and later young adults were monitored using spirometry and compared with the changing levels of air pollution in Stockholm. In particular, the study looked at levels from traffic in places where the participants lived from birth until around their 20s.
Between 2016 and 2019, air pollution levels were around 40 % lower than in 2002-2004, while there was a wide variation, with some areas improving and others not changing at all. When comparing children living in places where the air has improved with children living in areas where the air has remained the same, the lung capacity of the participants improved as they grew up in areas where the air has improved. Lung capacity itself only improved by a few percent, but there was also a 20 percent reduction in the risk of severe lung dysfunction.
The researchers therefore suggest that despite growing up with high levels of air pollution, it is possible to improve lung function in adulthood, provided that air pollution is reduced.