Air pollution has been linked to a variety of childhood mental health problems, but results are inconsistent across studies and the effect of exposure timing is unclear. We examined the associations between air pollution exposure at two time-points in early development and psychotic-like experiences (PLEs), and emotional and conduct symptoms, assessed in middle childhood (mean age 11.5 years).
Participants were 19,932 children selected from the NSW Child Development Study (NSW-CDS) with available linked multi-agency data from birth, and self-reported psychotic-like experiences (PLEs) and psychopathology at age 11–12 years (middle childhood). We used binomial logistic regression to examine associations between exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter less than 2.5 μm (PM2.5) at two time-points (birth and middle childhood) and middle childhood PLEs, and emotional and conduct symptoms, with consideration of socioeconomic status and other potential confounding factors in adjusted models.
In fully adjusted models, NO2 exposure in middle childhood was associated with concurrent PLEs (OR = 1.10, 95% CI = 1.02–1.20). Similar associations with PLEs were found for middle childhood exposure to PM2.5 (OR = 1.05, 95% CI = 1.01–1.09). Neither NO2 nor PM2.5 exposure was associated with emotional symptoms or conduct problems in this study.
This study highlights the need for a better understanding of potential mechanisms of action of NO2 in the brain during childhood.