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New research to study impact of air pollution on children’s brain development and mental health

Researchers awarded £300,000 grant to study the impact of air pollution on children’s brain function and mental health

Researchers on a project affiliated with the Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research have been awarded a £300,000 grant to study the impact of air pollution on children’s brain function and mental health.

The researchers will examine the impact of London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone on children’s brain development after receiving the funding from Barts Charity.

CHILL Cognition

The CHILL COGNITION study will run over a three year period and explore whether reduction in traffic, and better air quality as a result, improves how well children’s brains develop in terms of their abilities in tasks such as problem solving and memory recall. In addition, the researchers will relate these changes in brain development to children’s mental health.  The research will build on CHILL, an ongoing study of 3,416 primary school children in London, Luton and Dunstable, which is investigating the effects of air pollution on respiratory health and lung development.

Improving air quality

This new research will show whether improving air quality can improve brain development and prevent onset of mental health problems in primary school children. Children from 85 primary schools are taking part in the study, including schools from Luton, Dunstable and the London boroughs of Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Southwark, Lambeth, Westminster, Camden, Islington and the City of London.

Over the next three years, the children’s cognitive development will be assessed through fun and interactive tasks on computers, and their wellbeing monitored through mental health questionnaires.

Professor Chris Griffiths, Co-Director of the Centre and Professor of Primary Care at Queen Mary University of London is the study lead. He 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."

Professor Chris Griffiths, Co-Director of the Centre and Professor of Primary Care at Queen Mary University of LondonStudy Lead on CHILL Cognition

Between 2018 and 2020, the Ultra Low Emission Zone in London resulted in roadside nitrogen dioxide reducing by almost one third.

CHILL and CHILL COGNITION are collaborations across Queen Mary University of London, Imperial College London, University of Bedfordshire, University of Edinburgh, University of Cambridge, University of Leeds, University of Southern California, and Bradford Institute for Health Research. CHILL is funded by NIHR Public Health Research. CHILL COGNITION is funded by Barts Charity and receives additional funding from the Mayor of London.

Study websites

Find out about the CHILL Cognition study’s aims, objectives and methodology as well as key people involved.

CHILL Cognition

Find out about the original CHILL study, which is investigating the effects of air pollution on respiratory health and lung development.

CHILL (Children’s Health in London and Luton)

Image credit: ChrisSteer via Getty Images