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Your Environment. Your Health.

Childhood Air Pollution Exposure and Adult Heart Health

Carrie Breton, Sc.D., Rob McConnell, M.D., Edward Avol
University of Southern California
NIEHS Grants K01ES01780, P01ES009581, R01ES014708, P30ES007048


Childhood exposure to ozone can increase risk for higher carotid artery intima-media thickness (CIMT) in healthy young adults, according to a study from NIEHS grantees. Increased CIMT thickness marks plaque build up in artery walls, which increases risk for later cardiovascular disease.


To study the effects of childhood exposure to air pollution, the researchers estimated childhood and lifetime exposures to particulate matter (PM), nitrogen dioxide, and ozone for 861 University of Southern California college students using their home addresses and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality System database. The investigators also collected health and sociodemographic information and analyzed lipids and biomarkers in blood samples. 


The study participants had an average CIMT of 603 mm (+/-54 SD), and the researchers found that an increase of 2 SD in ozone exposure at age 5 and younger was associated with a 7.8-mm higher CIMT for the young adults (95 percent CI = -0.3-15.9). The same increase in ozone exposure when the study participants were 6 to 12 years old was linked with a 10.1-mm higher CIMT (95 percent CI = 1.8-18.5). Lifetime exposure to ozone showed similar but not significant associations, and the researchers did not observe associations for PM2.5, PM10, or nitrogen dioxide. The researchers say that their findings point to the importance of regulating air pollutants and limiting childhood exposures to ozone.


Citation: Breton CV, Wang X, Mack WJ, Berhane K, Lopez M, Islam TS, Feng M, Lurmann F, McConnell R, Hodis HN, Künzli N, Avol E. 2012 Sep 25. Childhood air pollutant exposure and carotid artery intima-media thickness in young adults. Circulation 126(13):1614-1620. Related Editorial: Childhood Exposures to Ozone The Fast Track to Cardiovascular Disease?

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