New study will look at how Luton air pollution affects children’s brain development and mental health

Researchers have chosen Luton as a case study into the impact of air pollution on children’s brain function and mental health.

Monday, 26th April 2021, 9:11 pm
Updated Monday, 26th April 2021, 9:32 pm
The Barts Charity has commissioned the study from the Queen Mary University in London

Queen Mary University of London was awarded a £300,000 grant by the Barts Charity to contrast the impact of London’s 'Ultra Low Emission Zone' on children’s brain development with other areas, including Luton.

The study has been entitled 'CHILL COGNITION' and will run over a three-year period to explore whether reduced traffic and better air quality helps children’s brains develop, looking at tasks such as problem solving and memory recollection.

It will build on the findings of CHILL - an ongoing study of 3,416 primary school children in London and Luton - which is investigating the effects of air pollution on lung development.

Understanding the impact of poor air quality on children has become a public health concern for councils and NHS Trusts across the country, following the death of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debra in February 2013.

Ella lived just 25 metres from the busy South Circular Road in Lewisham, south London. She had been in and out of hospital with breathing problems for three years before suffering a fatal asthma attack.

A second inquest held last year concluded that air pollution was the cause of her death - the first time that such a ruling has been made in the UK. Southwark Coroner Philip Barlow subsequently issued a Prevention of Future Deaths report, which was published last week.

The new research by Queen Mary University will also show whether improving air quality can aid brain development and prevent onset of mental health problems in primary school children.

Professor Chris Griffiths, study lead, said: “London’s 'Ultra Low Emission Zone' and UK-wide lockdowns have resulted in unprecedented reductions in traffic pollution and there has never been a better opportunity to address how air pollution affects children’s health.

"We hope to determine whether improved air quality, and specifically, traffic-related air pollution, results in better developmental and mental health outcomes for young people."