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New research has found poor air quality could be causing cognitive deficits in babies and toddlers.
The research has been led by Professor John Spencer, at the University of East Anglia, in collaboration with Assistant Professor Samuel Forbes from our Psychology Department, the Community Empowerment Lab in Lucknow (India) and Brown University (US).
The study, published in the journal eLife, shows for the first time that there is an association between poor air quality and impaired visual cognition in the first two years of life, when brain growth is at its peak.
Researchers worked with families from a range of socio-economic backgrounds in Shivgarh, a rural community in Uttar Pradesh – one of the states in India that has been most strongly impacted by poor air quality.
The team assessed the visual working memory and visual processing speed of 215 infants using a specially-designed cognition task from October 2017 to June 2019.
Researchers used air quality monitors in children’s homes to measure emission levels and air quality. One key factor the team measured was the cooking fuel commonly used at home.
The study found that air quality was poorer in homes that used solid cooking materials like cow dung cake, concluding therefore efforts to reduce cooking emissions in homes should be a key target for intervention.
The research indicates that global efforts to improve air quality could have benefits to infants’ emerging cognitive abilities.
Consistent with this aim and with the goal of improving maternal and child health, the Government of India has launched a national-level flagship program called the “Ujjwala Yojana” – a scheme that brings LPG fuel to women below the poverty line across the entire country.
This, in turn, could have a cascade of positive impacts because improved cognition can lead to improved economic productivity in the long term and reduce the burden on healthcare and mental health systems.
The team of researchers collaborated with the Community Empowerment Lab in Lucknow, India – a global health research and innovation organisation that works with rural communities to engage in science collaboratively.
This publication is based on research funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The findings and conclusions contained within are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
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