Pollution and noise from cars also sneak in in the classrooms and hinder learning and memory of the kids. A study conducted in 38 schools of Barcelona observes that the air and noise pollution impair the cognitive development of children. Children most exposed to trafficking develop, on average, a working memory Y slower attention span than their schoolmates further away from cars. “We have to start talking about trafficking as a public health problem“, sentences the epidemiologist Maria Foraster.
“We have to start talking about traffic as a public health problem”
Maria Foraster, epidemiologist
For a decade now, a team of researchers from the Isglobal Institute of Barcelona, led by Foraster and Jordi Sunyer, has investigated the Effects of trafficking on school-age children. In 2012, for a whole year, scientists studied the cognitive development of 2,680 boys and girls between 7 and 10 years old from Barcelona. On the one hand, they carried out a series of memory and learning tests on the students. And on the other hand, they examined the air pollution levels Y acoustics that surrounded their schools. From all these measures, and after years of analysis, the experts were able to find out how a polluted environment affects the minds of the little ones.
Effects of contamination
The results of this workpublished this Thursday in the journal ‘Plos Medicine’, leave no room for doubt. Traffic also harms learning. Pupils attending schools most exposed to car noise have, on average, more trouble concentrating Y perform activities that require memory than students studying in quieter environments. For every increment of five decibels in external noise, there is an 11.4% less capacity to retain short-term information and a 23.5% capacity to process complex data.
The constant hum of traffic has been associated with a poorer student performance. Also, it has been observed that the punctual noise spikessuch as the sound of a horn or the sudden braking of a vehicle, also stand out as one of the factors that most affect attention span of the kids. “Looking at the average number of decibels recorded in a school is not enough. Noise peaks can be more disruptive to neurodevelopment than constant noise,” says Foraster, an epidemiologist at Isglobal, an expert in children and the environment, and the lead author of this paper.
Previous studies also observed a similar damage caused by air pollution. In that case, the work revealed that children attending schools with high levels of contamination experienced slower growth of cognitive functions than their peers further away from car fumes. While the first advanced to an average of 7% per year, the latter progressed at a rate of 11% per year. It was also observed that the presence of suspended particles produced by cars reduced memory growth by 13% of work.
“These data do not mean that traffic causes serious cognitive problems. Nor does it say that your child will have worse academic performance if you study in a school next to a highway. We are talking about something different. Of What affects this phenomenon at the population level“, explains Foraster. “These data tell us, once again, that traffic is a serious problem for public health. In Europe, air pollution and traffic noise are the first and second most important environmental factors harmful to human health“, the expert wields in an interview with this newspaper.
There are already many (too many) studies that point to the danger of contamination on health. Air pollution is associated, for example, with an increase in respiratory and heart diseases. From cases of asthma to heart attacks. In the case of children, in addition, there is also concern that pollution may affect a key moment of neurodevelopment. “The childhood is a vulnerable period in which external stimuli such as noise can affect the rapid process of cognitive development that takes place before adolescence,” says Jordi Sunyer, head of Isglobal’s Child Health program.
“It is urgent to put measures to reduce pollution sources near schools”
“It is urgent to put measures to reduce sources of pollution close to schools,” exclaims Foraster after the publication of this latest study.
In Barcelona, for example, the city council has proposed to ‘pacify’ the surroundings of more of 150 schools in the city before the end of the year. This will involve, for example, remove some of the car lanes that surround the schools and, instead, create spaces with benches and play elements for the children. In London, on the other hand, they are studying prohibit the circulation of cars near schools during peak hours to thus prevent children from breathing polluted air when entering and leaving classes.