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Your Environment. Your Health.

Air Pollution and Psychological Distress During Pregnancy

Frederica P. Perera, Ph.D., Dr. P.H.
Columbia School of Public Health
NIEHS Grant R01ES015282

Research supported by NIEHS found that maternal psychological distress combined with exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAHs) air pollution during pregnancy adversely affects children’s behavioral development. The results point to the need for a multifaceted approach for preventing developmental problems in children.

The researchers followed 248 children of nonsmoking white women in the coal-burning region of Krakow, Poland, from before birth until age 9. They used personal air monitoring during pregnancy to determine prenatal PAH exposure and used the Psychiatric Epidemiology Research Instrument–Demoralization to determine maternal demoralization, a measure of psychological distress. The Child Behavior Checklist was used to ascertain child behavior.

The researchers found that maternal demoralization was linked with behavioral problems in the children including anxiety, depression, attention problems, rule-breaking, externalizing problems, and aggressive behavior. The effects of demoralization were greatest among children with higher levels of prenatal exposure to PAHs.

Citation: Perera FP, Wang S, Rauh V, Zhou H, Stigter L, Camann D, Jedrychowski W, Mroz E, Majewska R. 2013. Prenatal Exposure to Air Pollution, Maternal Psychological Distress, and Child Behavior. Pediatrics 132(5):e1284-94.

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