Is Air Pollution Making You Dumber? Yes Says a New Study

The impact was measured through steep reduction in verbal and math tests scores.  

2 min read
Can air pollution impact how you do in maths at school?

Can air pollution impact how you do in maths at school? A new study from an International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) researcher shows that exposure to air pollution over a long period significantly impacts one’s cognitive abilities.

This impact was measured through steep reduction in verbal and math tests scores.

The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The lead author of the study, Xiaobo Zhang, senior research fellow, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), in a press release said:

The damage on cognitive ability by air pollution also likely impedes the development of human capital. Therefore, a narrow focus on the negative effect on health may underestimate the total cost of air pollution. Our findings on the damaging effect of air pollution on cognition imply that the indirect effect of pollution on social welfare could be much larger than previously thought.
Xiaobo Zhang

The Study

For the study, the researchers studied 32,000 people taken from the nationally representative China Family Panel Studies longitudinal survey conducted in 2010 and 2014. The verbal and math test scores of the participants were matched with their exposure to short- and long-term air pollution.

The researchers found that both verbal and math scores decreased with increasing cumulative air pollution exposure, with a steeper decline for verbal scores than math scores.

They also found that the decline in verbal scores was more prominent in men than women.

The damage air pollution has on aging brains likely imposes substantial health and economic cost, considering that cognitive functioning is critical for the elderly to both running daily errands and making high-stakes economic decisions. This finding has been neglected in the policy discourse, and has important policy implications.
Xiaobo Zhang

Xiaobo Zhang also stated that these findings could also be applied to other developing countries.

More than 95 per cent of the world's population is breathing unhealthy air, with India and China jointly contributing to over 50 percent of global deaths attributed to pollution, an earlier report by State of Global Air Report had mentioned.

Long-term exposure to air pollution had contributed to an estimated 6.1 million deaths across the globe in 2016. The report had found that India topped China for early deaths from outdoor air pollution with 1.1 million in 2016.

While China had made some progress in declining air pollution, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have experienced the steepest increases in air pollution levels since 2010, it added.

(With media inputs)

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