Association of Improved Air Quality with Lung Development in Children


As part of the Children’s Health Study, we measured lung function annually in 2120 children from three separate cohorts corresponding to three separate calendar periods: 1994–1998, 1997–2001, and 2007–2011. Mean ages of the children within each cohort were 11 years at the beginning of the period and 15 years at the end. Linear-regression models were used to examine the relationship between declining pollution levels over time and lung-function development from 11 to 15 years of age, measured as the increases in forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) and forced vital capacity (FVC) during that period (referred to as 4-year growth in FEV1 and FVC).


Over the 13 years spanned by the three cohorts, improvements in 4-year growth of both FEV1 and FVC were associated with declining levels of nitrogen dioxide (P<0.001 for FEV1 and FVC) and of particulate matter with an aerodynamic diameter of less than 2.5 μm (P= 0.008 for FEV1 and P<0.001 for FVC) and less than 10 μm (P<0.001 for FEV1 and FVC). These associations persisted after adjustment for several potential confounders. Significant improvements in lung-function development were observed in both boys and girls and in children with asthma and children without asthma. The proportions of children with clinically low FEV1 (defined as <80% of the predicted value) at 15 years of age declined significantly, from 7.9% to 6.3% to 3.6% across the three periods, as the air quality improved (P=0.001).


We found that long-term improvements in air quality were associated with statistically and clinically significant positive effects on lung-function growth in children. (Funded by the Health Effects Institute and others.)

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