EXPOSURE to toxic vehicle fumes increases the risk of obesity in children and leads to significantly faster weight gain later in life, a new study has found.
Children exposed to higher levels of nitrogen dioxide under the age of one are the most likely to experience the accelerated weight gain, according to the research published in the journal Environmental Health.
“We would urge parents to be mindful where their young children spend their time, especially considering if those areas are near major roads,” lead researcher at the University of Southern California, Jeniffer Kim, told The Guardian.
“The first year of life is a period of rapid development of various systems in the body [and] may prime the body’s future development.”
Nitrogen dioxide is a major component in pollution from diesel-fueled vehicles and is common in most major cities the world over.
The chemical is most commonly associated with respiratory problems as it inflames the lining of the lungs and can reduce immunity to lung infections.
Common side effects of high nitrogen dioxide levels include coughing, colds, flu, and bronchitis. In more extreme cases, especially with children, it can cause more frequent and intense asthma attacks.
A study released last week from the World Health Organisation (WHO) found over 90 percent of the world’s children under 15 years of age breathe air that is so polluted it’s damaging their intelligence and leading to an estimated 600,000 child deaths in 2016.
Research found 93 percent of children worldwide are exposed to one of the most damaging pollutants – PM2.5.
In poorer countries, this increases to a whopping 98 percent of children under five being exposed to dangerous levels of the toxic pollutant.
Director General of the WHO Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called the problem “inexcusable.”
The latest study examined the damage caused by air pollution from busy main roads, where diesel trucks are common, in the first year of life. They found that by age 10, children experiencing high early exposure were almost 1 kilogram heavier on average than those with low exposure.
Researchers concluded their study suggests “early life may represent a critical window of exposure where increased [air pollution] may result in increased risk for higher childhood [weight] trajectories, which in turn may lead to childhood obesity.”