Written by By Manisha Ganguly on CNN.com on December 7, 2017
Almost 17 million infants worldwide are breathing toxic air, potentially affecting their brain development, according to a UNICEF report published Wednesday.
Two-thirds of the affected infants — over 12 million — live in South Asia and are exposed to pollution six times higher than recommended limits.
Particulates in pollution can damage brain tissue and impair cognitive development, the report states, with potential lifelong consequences.
Air pollution is one of the biggest threats to child health globally. Pneumonia claims 920,000 children under the age of 5 every year, and the risk is greatest for those under the age of 1.
The brain undergoes critical growth in the first 1,000 days of life, forming foundational neural connections in this stage. Exposure to air pollution during this time can therefore impact development, the report states.
During development, young brains are especially vulnerable to even small doses of toxic chemicals. This is made worse by a higher breathing rate in children, which causes them to inhale more toxic air, according to the report.
“The brains of babies and young children are constructed by a complex interplay of rapid neural connections that begin before birth,” said Pia Rebello Britto, the UNICEF chief of early childhood development. “These neural connections shape a child’s optimal thinking, learning, health, memory, linguistic and motor skills.” Read more
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