Road traffic air pollution putting unborn babies' health at risk, study warns

The damage done by breathing in traffic fumes outweighs the benefits of physical activity scientists found

Previous BHF research has shown that long-term exposure to air pollution leads to inflammation in the blood vessels, including those supplying the heart, and promotes the build-up of fatty plaques in the linings of blood vessels, which can eventually lead to a heart attack or stroke.

The researchers used data from the London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory to estimate average monthly concentrations of pollutants related to road traffic, including nitrogen dioxide (NO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and larger particulate matter (PM10).

In a study published (paywall) December 5 in the Lancet, researchers led by teams at Imperial College London and Peking University in Beijing looked at the health effects of people over 60 years old going for walks in Hyde Park and along Oxford Street, both in London. "The researchers found that for each 5 microgram per cubic meter increase in PM 2.5, the risk of low birth weight increased by 15 percent..."

"We need to reduce pollution so that everyone can enjoy the benefits of physical activity in any urban environment".

The project was also supported by the UK Natural Environment Research Council, the Medical Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Department of Health.

Traffic pollution poses health risks for older people and unborn babies according to two separate studies published today.

A study has shown that walking around heavily polluted areas could reduce the positive impacts of exercise.

This is the first study to document these negative effects on healthy people as well as those with pre-existing cardiorespiratory conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or coronary heart disease.

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Participants were randomly assigned to spend two hours walking along the western end of London's Oxford Street, an area where traffic is restricted to diesel-powered buses and cabs; or through a traffic-free area of the city's Hyde Park.

Noise and air pollution in both of the settings were also measured at the times of the walks.

Blood flow and heart rate also increased after a walk in the park, blood pressure decreased, and arteries became less stiff. Specifically, their lung capacity improved within the first hour - and, in many cases, that improvement continued for more than 24 hours.

But after walking on Oxford Street there were only minor improvements in lung capacity, while the measures of arterial stiffness actually got worse which the study associated with "greater exposure to black carbon soot and ultrafine particles from diesel exhaust".

"Exercise is crucial in reducing the risk of a heart attack or stroke, but it seems risky levels of air pollution could be erasing these benefits in older adults". They also claimed that while the study only involved two relatively short walks, the findings suggest that repeated exposures to air pollution would not be beneficial to respiratory and cardiovascular systems.

"These findings are important as for many people, such as the elderly or those with chronic disease, very often the only exercise they can do is to walk", said senior author Fan Chung, "Our research suggests that we might advise older adults to walk in green spaces, away from built-up areas and pollution from traffic".

"However, telling joggers to avoid polluted streets is not a solution to the problem".

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