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Study to explore impact of air pollution on child health
Researchers in Antwerp are aiming to explore the effects of air pollution on children’s health, by focusing on the impact of their journey to school. A total of 60 healthy children will take part in the project, aged between 10 and 14.
Participants will come from various parts of Antwerp and the surrounding area, and travel to school in a variety of ways – on foot, by bike or by car. Before they set off for school, their lungs, heart and blood vessels will be checked, with the same measurements carried out on arrival. Air quality measurements will be done partly with sensors that are installed in schools and homes, and partly with mobile sensors that the children carry in their school bags. Health measurements – lung function, endothelial function and analysis of exhaled breath – will be performed by the investigators.
“We know that both children and adults with lung diseases have more complaints in an environment with a lot of air pollution,” says project leader Professor Stijn Verhulst, a paediatric lung specialist and head of paediatric medicine at Antwerp’s university hospital (UZA).
“Children are the most vulnerable group in society. They are smaller, breathe faster and handle exposure to air pollution worse than adults. With this project we want to investigate the exact impact of air pollution on the health of children. For example, research is being conducted into the effects of air pollution on respiration and on cardiovascular diseases.”
The project is a joint initiative between UZA and Antwerp University (UA), with the aim of better understanding the impacts and raising awareness of the problem. Investigators hope to begin in the autumn, subject to approval by the ethics committee and depending on the coronavirus situation.
“Obviously, research has already been conducted into air pollution by various agencies and organisations,” says Verhulst. “However, the exact health effects of air pollution are not yet clear. To date, there are no studies available that explore a direct, one-to-one relationship between the degree of air pollution and its impact on lung function and cardiovascular function in children. UZA would like to start this investigation. We see it as our responsibility to society.”
Participating schools will be chosen from a number that took part in a previous project, AIRbezen, to ensure a spread of low- and high-pollution environments. Other previous studies in Antwerp have investigated the differences in air quality at street level, while the city is currently taking part in a European pilot project to test air quality sensor networks, in a bid to improve data on pollution and better monitor public health.