1. Study suggests engaging children in math at home equals a boost in more than just math skills

    November 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Purdue University press release:

    Preschool children who engage in math activities at home with their parents not only improve their math skills, but also their general vocabulary, according to research from Purdue University.

    “Exposure to basic numbers and math concepts at home were predictive, even more so than storybook reading or other literacy-rich interactions, of improving preschool children’s general vocabulary,” said Amy Napoli, a doctoral student in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies who led the study. “And one of the reasons we think this could be is the dialogue that happens when parents are teaching their children about math and asking questions about values and comparisons, which helps these young children improve their oral language skills.”

    The findings are published online in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

    “It’s never too early to talk about numbers and quantities. One of the first words young children learn is ‘more,'” said David Purpura, an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, and senior author of the study.

    There are a number of ways parents can encourage math learning at home, such as talking about counting, connecting numbers to quantities and comparing values — more and less. It also helps to focus on counting as purposeful, such as “there are three cookies for a snack” rather than “there are cookies for a snack.”

    “This focus on math typically isn’t happening at home, but this shows that when parents do include math concepts it can make a difference,” said Napoli, who is working on tools to help parents improve math-related instruction at home. “When working with families, there is a math-related anxiety aspect and that is probably why more parents focus on literacy than on math. But, if you can count, then you can teach something to your child.”

    This study evaluated 116 preschool children, ages 3-5. The researchers assessed the children’s math and language skills in the fall and spring of the preschool year and examined how what their parents reported about math and literacy activities at home predicted children’s improvement over time. Napoli and Purpura do caution that these findings are only correlational and the future experimental work is needed to evaluate the causal nature of these findings. This research is ongoing work supported by Purdue’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies.


  2. Study suggests parents help shape how much pain preschoolers feel after vaccination

    by Ashley

    From the York University press release:

    While vaccinations protect children against various illnesses, the pain can sometimes be too much to bear. It’s no wonder most children and parents dread their vaccination appointments. Now new research from York University’s OUCH Cohort at the Faculty of Health found that the amount of distress and pain felt by a preschooler during a vaccination is strongly related to how their parents help them cope before and during an appointment.

    Professor Rebecca Pillai Riddell in the Faculty of Health, York Research Chair in Pain and Mental Health and senior author of the paper, has been following the OUCH Cohort children for over a decade. In the study, researchers used the data from 548 children who had been followed during infant and/or preschool vaccinations. Infants were included in the study if the infant had no suspected developmental delays or impairments, had no chronic illnesses, had never been admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit, and was born no more than three weeks preterm.

    The research, led by graduate student Lauren Campbell, examined children who were expressing the most pain during preschool vaccinations. The goal of the study was to find out what would best predict the children who had the highest pain and did the poorest coping during the preschool vaccination by watching both the child and the parent over repeated vaccinations over childhood. Researchers evaluated various pain behaviours such as facial activity (grimacing), leg activity (crunching of legs), crying and consolability to measure the level of pain in children. They also looked at what the child and parent said that related to coping with the pain.

    The results suggested that a preschooler’s ability to cope is a powerful tool to reduce pain-related distress but they need parents to support their coping throughout a vaccination appointment to have an impact in reducing pain-related distress.

    “When children were distressed prior to the needle, that made them feel more pain after the needle,” says Pillai Riddell.

    The data confirmed that engaging in coping-promoting behaviours like encouraging a child to take deep breaths was important. Using distractions such as pulling out an iPhone or distracting children with plans about what they will do after the appointment also improved children’s coping.

    However, Pillai Riddell says it may be even more important to avoid negative or distress-promoting behaviours.

    “Telling kids that ‘it’s ok, it’s going to be fine’ over and over again actually makes children feel anxious. Parents only say things are ‘okay’ when things are not ok. Ensuring you don’t criticize a child, such as saying: ‘strong girls don’t cry’, ‘big boys don’t do that’ is important. Also, don’t apologize to a child by saying things like: ‘I’m sorry this is happening to you,’ is also key, says Pillai Riddell. “These are all distress-promoting behaviours and increase pain and distress.”

    The study, published in Pain, found that not only is a parent’s behaviour during vaccinations critical to a child’s pain coping responses, but that the behaviour may also impact their reactions in the future. Moreover, the research may better inform medical care and may predict suffering by children during vaccinations into adulthood.

    “People who have negative reactions with doctors when they are young, may avoid preventative care in the future. If you didn’t like a needle when you were five, that can stick with you.”


  3. Study finds virtual reality effective in reducing pain during certain medical procedures

    November 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles press release:

    Virtual reality has emerged into popular culture with an ever-widening array of applications including clinical use in a pediatric healthcare center. Children undergo necessary yet painful and distressing medical procedures every day, but very few non-pharmaceutical interventions have been found to successfully manage the pain and anxiety associated with these procedures. Investigators at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles have conducted a study to determine if virtual reality (VR) can be effectively used for pain management during blood draw. Their findings showed that VR significantly reduced patients’ and parents’ perception of acute pain, anxiety and general distress during the procedure. The results of the study are published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology.

    “Given the immersive and engaging nature of the VR experience, this technology has the capacity to act as a preventative intervention transforming the blood draw experience into a less distressing and potentially pain-free medical procedure, particularly for patients with more anxiety about having their blood drawn,” said Jeffrey I. Gold, PhD, the director of the Pediatric Pain Management Clinic at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

    While previous research supported the effectiveness of distraction during painful procedures, specifically needle pain, the investigators hypothesized that the new VR technology, an arguably more powerful and immersive intervention could be even more effective at reducing pain and anxiety.

    Gold and study co-author Nicole E. Mahrer, PhD, of the Department of Anesthesiology Critical Care Medicine at CHLA, theorize that ‘VR analgesia’ or pain control originates from the neurobiological interplay of the parts of the brain that regulate the visual, auditory, and touch sensory experience to produce an analgesic effect.

    For the study, they recruited patients, ages 10 to 21 years, the patient’s caregiver and the phlebotomist in the outpatient blood draw clinic, and randomized them to receive either standard of care, which typically includes a topical anesthetic cream or spray and a movie playing in the room, or standard of care plus the virtual reality game when undergoing routine blood draw. Looking at pre-procedural and post-procedural standardized measures of pain, anxiety and satisfaction, researchers found that VR is feasible, tolerated, and well-liked by patients, their parents and the phlebotomists.

    VR, especially immersive VR, draws heavily on the limited cognitive resource of attention by drawing the user’s attention away from the hospital environment and the medical procedures and into the virtual world,” said Gold who is also a professor of Anesthesiology, Pediatrics, and Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

    Given the significant concerns about problematic opioid use, evidence-based support for non-pharmaceutical inventions may lead to use of VR for pain management during certain medical procedures and a decreased need for narcotics.

    “Ultimately, the aim of future VR investigations should be to develop flexible VR environments to target specific acute and chronic pain conditions,” added Gold.


  4. Autism study examines relational factors in music therapy

    November 5, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Uni Research press release:

    Relational factors in music therapy can contribute to a positive outcome of therapy for children with autism.

    It might not surprise that good relationships create good outcomes, as meaningful relational experiences are crucial to all of us in our everyday life. However, the development of a relationship with a child with autism may be disrupted due to the level of symptoms interfering with the typical development of emotional and social abilities.

    In a new study, researchers from GAMUT, Uni Research Health and University of Bergen, could show that the quality of the therapeutic relationship predicts generalized changes in social skills in children diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition (ASC).

    This predictor study included 48 children between 4 and 7 years who received improvisational music therapy weekly over a period of 5 months. Outcomes related to the child’s social skills were measured before and after treatment. Based on session videos the researchers assessed the relationship between the child and the therapist.

    Findings of this study show a significant symptom reduction, if a relationship was developed in which the therapist was emotionally and musically attuned to the child’s expressions. Especially an improvement of communication and language skills was associated with the quality of the therapeutic relationship.

    Attunement as mechanism of change

    Attunement processes between humans are particularly described for early interactions between infants and their caregivers. It has been suggested that the caregiver’s capability to attune and synchronize to the infant’s movements, rhythms, and affects influences attachment and the development of social understanding. Within these attuned musical exchanges, the infant experiences being experienced and understood emotionally.

    – In music therapy with children with autism, therapists try to transfer principles from early interaction processes by making music that is specifically tailored to the child’s sounds, movements, postures, and affect. This should allow for moments of synchronization and attunement, Karin Mössler at Uni Research explains. Mössler is the principal investigator of the study.

    Children with childhood autism

    Focusing on musical and emotional attunement might be especially important for children with low functioning childhood autism as it might be specifically powerful when working with sensory processing, affect regulation, or deviations related to the child’s movements all of which can be crucially affected in these children. Even though the primary results of a related study investigating the effects of music therapy with children with autism, do not show that music therapy works better than other therapies, subgroup analysis identified that children with childhood autism or coexisting intellectual disability improve to a greater extend from music therapy than children with another autism diagnosis.

    Stereotypical behavior as resource

    In this sense, special focus should be given to intervention strategies fostering relationship through musical and emotional attunement. These strategies should help therapists but also parents of children with ASC to cope with the child’s symptom level by, for example, using its repetitive or stereotype movements and affective expressions as a resource and starting point for attunement.


  5. Study links afterschool program environments to academic confidence and skills

    November 3, 2017 by Ashley

    From the New York University press release:

    Afterschool programs with positive, responsive, and organized environments can have academic benefits for students, finds a new study by NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

    Young people growing up in urban, low-income communities spend significant time in publicly funded afterschool programs. Unlike schools, which grow increasingly segregated and involve more individual instruction as children grow older, afterschool programs are spaces where instructors, often similar to the students in age and background, can facilitate diverse, productive interactions that help youth reach social and academic goals.

    “Because of their unique position at the juncture of school, neighborhood, and home, afterschool programs may be particularly important for youth on a path toward school disengagement or risky behaviors,” said study author Elise Cappella, associate professor of applied psychology at NYU Steinhardt and director of NYU’s Institute of Human Development and Social Change.

    Given the potential of afterschool programs to support youth in urban, low-income communities, the researchers examined the role that the afterschool classroom environment plays in terms of academic outcomes for youth with and without social and behavioral difficulties.

    The researchers used data gathered from five afterschool programs run by a single nonprofit. The 256 youth studied, ranging from third through eighth grade, were predominantly Latino and African-American.

    In both the fall and spring, the researchers collected three types of academic outcome measures from youth and staff, including reading skills, youth perceptions of their academic abilities, and academic engagement. They also conducted observations in the fall to measure the extent to which afterschool classrooms were positive, responsive, and organized, looking for factors such as supportive relationships between youth and adults, student engagement in activities, and chaos in the classroom.

    The researchers found that a positive afterschool environment – one with good social dynamics, responsive instruction, and behavior managementpredicted stronger academic skills and youth perceptions of their academic abilities across one year.

    The association between a positive environment and improvement in academic skills was magnified for students with social and behavioral difficulties, while students without these difficulties saw a greater boost in their perceptions of their own academic abilities. No significant link was found between the classroom environment in the fall and students’ academic engagement in the spring; however, in classrooms with more positive environments, youth with social and behavioral problems were more academically engaged.

    “Afterschool classrooms observed to be positive, responsive, and organized had youth with greater academic skill development over the school year. With youth in our study averaging an oral reading fluency below the 30th percentile in national norms, the potential boost may be critical,” Cappella said. “In terms of academic self-concept, one’s confidence as a learner and identity as a student grows increasingly important as children approach and enter early adolescence.”

    The researchers urge the education community to consider the role of afterschool classrooms and instructors in promoting supportive interactions and advancing academic outcomes for at-risk youth during this important transition to adolescence.


  6. Study suggests living close to green spaces is associated with better attention in children

    October 29, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) press release:

    Natural surroundings, including green spaces, may be beneficial for brain development in children, but evidence is still limited. A previous ISGlobal study already indicated that green spaces within and surrounding schools could enhance cognitive development in children between 7 and 10 years of age. In the current study, the authors expanded on this finding by evaluating the impact of greenness surrounding all the residential addresses of children since birth and characterizing cognitive development at earlier stages in life.

    The analysis, published in Environment Health Perspectives, was based on data from 1,500 children of the INMA — Environment and Childhood Project cohort in Sabadell and Valencia, collected during 2003-2013. The ISGlobal team analysed residential surrounding greenness — at 100, 300 and 500 metres distance- at birth, 4-5 years and 7 years of age. Two types of attention tests were performed at 4-5 and 7 years of age. The research shows that children with higher greenness around their homes had better scores in the attention tests.

    Payam Dadvand, ISGlobal researcher and first author of the study, emphasizes “this is the first time that the impact of lifelong residential exposure to green spaces on attention capacity in children has been studied.” These results “underline the importance of green areas in cities for children’s health and brain development,” says Dadvand.

    Jordi Sunyer, study coordinator and head of the Child Health Programme at ISGlobal, points out that “the possibility that exposure to different types of vegetation might have different impacts on neurodevelopment remains an open question.” Therefore, Sunyer considers further studies should be done in other settings with different climates and vegetation.

    Green spaces in cities promote social connections and physical activity and reduce exposure to air pollution and noise, and are therefore essential for the development of the future generations’ brains” adds the study coordinator.


  7. Study suggests children spontaneously practice skills to prepare for the future

    October 26, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Society for Research in Child Development press release:

    Deliberate practice is essential for improving a wide range of skills important for everyday life, from tying shoelaces to reading and writing. Yet despite its importance for developing basic skills, academic success, and expertise, we know little about the development of deliberate practice. A new study from Australia found that children spontaneously practice skills to prepare for the future starting at the age of 6. The study, from researchers at the University of Queensland, is published in the journal Child Development.

    “Our study contributes to our understanding of how young children start to regulate their own learning to achieve their long-term goals, as well as the development of the cognitive processes that allow people to acquire a range of general skills and highly specialized expertise throughout life,” explains Melissa Brinums, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Queensland who led the study. “It is one of only a small number of studies documenting age-related differences in children’s future-oriented behavior beyond the preschool period.”

    To learn more about young children’s understanding of practice and the age at which they start to practice without being prompted, researchers tested 120 children ages 4 to 7 years. Most were from European-Australian, middle- to upper-middle-class families — and the authors caution that more study is needed to examine the influence of social factors (including socioeconomic status) and individual differences on children’s understanding of and engagement in deliberate practice.

    In the study, children in one room were shown three games involving motor skills and told they would be tested on one of them (a target game) later, winning stickers based on their performance. Children were then brought to a different room with replicas of the games they had seen in the first room and told they had five minutes to play before returning to the first room for the test. The researchers anticipated that children who understood that practice could help their future performance would spend more time playing the target game than the other two games. After playing, children were asked which game they played the longest and why, what they could do to improve on the games, and if they could explain what practice is.

    Most 6- and 7-year-olds explained what practice is and knew that it helped improve their skills, and most played the target game longer than the other games and said they did so to practice for the test. Most 5-year-olds showed an understanding of practice and spent slightly longer playing the target game; however, when asked why they had chosen to play that game, the 5-year-olds said they did so for reasons other than practice. Most 4-year-olds did not understand the concept of practice and did not spend more time playing the target game.

    Overall, these findings reveal clear improvements in children’s deliberate practice from ages 4 to 7. These increases in understanding of and engagement in deliberate practice may be due to age-related improvements in cognitive capacities such as episodic foresight, metacognition, and executive functions, the researchers suggest. Episodic foresight, the capacity to envision the future, allows children to foresee the future utility of a skill. Metacognition, the capacity to reflect on and monitor mental states, and executive functions, the cognitive processes that allow us to control our thoughts and behavior, play important roles in allowing children to monitor and control their own learning.

    “By providing insight into children’s understanding of practice and the age at which they start to practice for the future with and without prompting, our study may help caregivers and teachers structure age-appropriate learning activities for children,” notes Kana Imuta, a psychology researcher at the University of Queensland, who coauthored the study. “For example, out findings suggest that it may be beneficial to start having conversations with children as young as 6 about their future goals, and encourage them to think about and work toward those goals. A focus on the future may help kids understand why practicing is so important.”


  8. Study suggests reading difficulties in children may sometimes be linked to hearing problems

    October 17, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Coventry University press release:

    Children with reading difficulties should be more thoroughly screened for hearing problems, a new report by Coventry University academics has said.

    The study, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, found 25 per cent of its young participants who had reading difficulties showed mild or moderate hearing impairment, of which their parents and teachers were unaware.

    The researchers believe that if there was more awareness of youngsters’ hearing problems — as well as an understanding of what particular aspects of literacy they struggled with — then the children might be able to receive more structured support that could help them improve their reading and writing skills.

    The study by academics at the university’s Centre for Advances in Behavioural Science compared children with dyslexia to youngsters who had a history of repeated ear infections to see if they had a similar pattern of literacy difficulties.

    A total of 195 children aged between eight and 10 — including 36 with dyslexia and 29 with a history of repeated ear infections — completed a series of tests to establish their reading and writing skills and how they used the structures of words based on their sounds and meanings, in speech and literacy.

    They were retested 18 months later, when a hearing screening was also carried out.

    None of the parents of the children with dyslexia reported any knowledge of hearing loss before the tests, but the screening showed that nine out of 36 of these children had some form of hearing loss.

    Around one third of the children who had repeated ear infections had problems with reading and writing, although the researchers suggest repeat ear infections will only result in reading difficulties when accompanied by weaknesses in other areas.

    The results showed that children with dyslexia have different patterns of literacy difficulties to children with a history of repeat ear infections, although there is some overlap between the groups.

    Children with dyslexia had difficulties with literacy activities involving the ability to manipulate speech sounds (known as phonology) and the knowledge of grammatical word structure (called morphology).

    The academics said these youngsters need to be taught how to use morphology in a highly-structured step-by-step way to help them improve their literacy skills.

    Children with a history of repeated ear infections mainly had problems with the phonology tasks; showing that they still had subtle difficulties with the perception of spoken language.

    The academics suggested that teachers should be made aware if youngsters have had a history of repeated ear infections, so they can consider the possibility of any hearing loss and understand how the consequences of these infections may impact on children as they learn about the sound structure of words and begin to read.

    Children currently have their hearing tested as babies and, in some areas of the UK, when they start school. Even so, later onset deafness can occur at any age and GPs can arrange for a child to have a hearing test at any age if a parent or teacher has concerns.

    But the academics believe that more regular, detailed tests might help youngsters with literacy problems.

    Report author Dr Helen Breadmore said:

    “Many children in school may have an undetected mild hearing loss, which makes it harder for them to access the curriculum.

    “Current hearing screening procedures are not picking up these children, and we would advise that children have their hearing tested in more detail and more often.

    “A mild-moderate hearing loss will make the perception of speech sounds difficult, particularly in a classroom environment with background noise and other distractions. Therefore, children who have suffered repeated ear infections and associated hearing problems have fluctuating access to different speech sounds precisely at the age when this information is crucial in the early stages of learning to read.”


  9. Study looks at how both nature and nurture may be influencing eating behavior in young children

    October 16, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences press release:

    For most preschool-age children, picky eating is just a normal part of growing up. But for others, behaviors such as insisting on only eating their favorite food item — think chicken nuggets at every meal — or refusing to try something new might lead to the risk of being over- or underweight, gastrointestinal distress, or other eating disorders later in childhood.

    Parents and other caregivers often deem children as being “picky eaters” for a variety of reasons, but there is not a hard-fast definition in place for research. Nutrition and family studies researchers at the University of Illinois have collaborated for the last 10 years to understand the characteristics of picky eaters and to identify possible correlations of the behavior.

    In a new study, the researchers wanted to see if chemosensory genes might have a possible relationship to picky eating behavior in young children. They found that certain genes related to taste perception may be behind some of these picky eating habits.

    “For most children, picky eating is a normal part of development,” says Natasha Cole, a doctoral student in the Division of Nutritional Sciences at U of I and lead author of the study. “But for some children, the behavior is more worrisome.” Cole, also part of the Illinois Transdisciplinary Obesity Prevention Program at U of I, hopes the research can help identify the determinants of picky eating behavior in early childhood.

    Leading up to the taste perception genes study, the U of I researchers identified common characteristics of picky eaters, ages 2 to 4 years, and divided these “types” of picky eaters into distinct groups. Further research from the team looked at how parenting styles may affect picky eating behavior and whether children exhibit picky eating behavior both at home and in childcare — homecare or center-based — situations.

    “This has kind of been an evolution of the research, seeing an interaction rather than just seeing the child as on its own, which, when we first started trying to define a picky eater, we were just looking at the child,” explains Soo-Yeun Lee, a professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at U of I. “As we were moving into different parts of the research we realized, it’s not just the child, it’s the caregiver and the environment, as well.”

    Now, they are looking at the influence of “nature and nurture” on a child’s picky eating behavior.

    “Natasha is actually taking a deeper look at the child and genetic predisposition,” Lee says. “She is looking at sensory taste genes and also at some of the behavioral genes that have been highlighted in the literature. She has been looking at the whole field of picky eating research, and classifying it based on ‘nature vs. nurture.’ Nature is the genetic disposition and nurture is the environment and the caregivers.”

    The idea, Lee explains, is based on an orchid/dandelion hypothesis. “There are some genes — the behavioral genes — that make the child more prone and more sensitive to being more behaviorally problematic when external influences are present that may not work out their way. That’s the orchid concept. This may be a sensitive child who may not be as resilient with negative feedback or negative mealtime strategies given by parents, versus a dandelion child who is very robust and resistant to whatever, nurture or not, is given to them.

    “There is that fine line, and it’s not just the nurture, the environment, that’s influencing that, but it’s the child’s susceptibility to the environmental cues as well,” she adds.

    For the study, the researchers collected information about breastfeeding history and picky eating behaviors, such as limited food variety, food refusals, and struggles for control, for 153 preschoolers, as reported by their caregivers. Saliva samples were also taken for DNA extraction and genotyping.

    The researchers looked at genetic variation in single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs, pronounced “snips”) from five candidate genes related to taste perception. Of the five, they found that two had an association with picky eating behaviors in the preschoolers. One (TAS2R38) was associated with limited dietary variety, and the other (CA6) with struggles for control during mealtime.

    Interestingly, both the TAS2R38 and CA6 genes are possibly related to bitter taste perception. So it is not surprising that the children who are genetically “bitter-sensitive” may be more likely to be picky eaters (i.e. turning down Brussel sprouts or broccoli). Other chemosensory factors, such as odor, color, and texture, may affect eating behaviors as well. Further studies are needed to see how children’s food preferences are affected by the look or smell of their food.

    Along with continuing to look at genetic associations with picky eating, Cole is also interested in understanding how picky eating behaviors start even in children before 2 years of age. Most picky eating research has focused on children over 2 years, but eating habits begin to form before then. She and the research team recently published another study that reviews the research literature on picky eating in children younger than 2 years. The study discusses picky eating associations from an ecological model, starting with the child, and moving out to the child’s environment.

    “By two years, children know how to eat and have pretty set habits,” Cole says. “There is a huge gap in the research when children transition from a milk-based diet to foods that the rest of the family eats.”

    Cole adds that the research involving children under 2 years shows that 22 percent of those children are perceived as picky eaters by their parents or caregivers. Surprisingly, she also found that each additional month of the child’s age was associated with an increase in food-related fussiness. “So a child could go from rarely being a picky eater to being a frequent picky eater in less than a year,” she says.

    Collecting and integrating this comprehensive information from “Cell to Society” is critical to better understand nature-nurture interactions, as many questions in this area remain unsolved, explains Margarita Teran-Garcia, an assistant professor in nutritional sciences, human development and family studies, and the Carle Illinois College of Medicine at the U of I, and co-author of the paper.


  10. Study suggests air pollution exposure on home-to-school routes reduces the growth of working memory

    by Ashley

    From the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) press release:

    A study led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), an institute supported by the “la Caixa” Banking Foundation, has demonstrated that exposure to air pollution on the way to school can have damaging effects on children’s cognitive development. The study, published recently in Environmental Pollution, found an association between a reduction in working memory and exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and black carbon during the walking commute to and from school.

    The study was carried out in the framework of the BREATHE project. Previous research in the same project found that exposure to traffic-related pollutants in schools was associated with slower cognitive development. The aim of the team undertaking the new study was to assess the impact of exposure to air pollution during the walking commute to school. The findings of an earlier study had shown that 20% of a child’s daily dose of black carbon — a pollutant directly related to traffic — is inhaled during urban commutes.

    “The results of earlier toxicological and experimental studies have shown that these short exposures to very high concentrations of pollutants can have a disproportionately high impact on health” explains Mar Álvarez-Pedrerol, ISGlobal researcher and first author of the study. “The detrimental effects may be particularly marked in children because of their smaller lung capacity and higher respiratory rate,” she adds.

    The study was carried out in Barcelona and enrolled over 1,200 children aged from 7 to 10, from 39 schools, all of whom walked to school on a daily basis. The children’s working memory and attention capacity was assessed several times during the 12-month study. Their exposure to air pollution over the same period was calculated on the basis of estimated levels on the shortest walking route to their school.

    Statistical analysis of the findings revealed that exposure to PM2.5 and black carbon was associated with a reduction in the growth of working memory: an interquartile range increase in PM 2.5 and black carbon levels was associated with a decline of 4.6% and 3.9%, respectively, in expected annual growth of working memory. No significant associations were found with exposure to NO2 and none of the pollutants studied were observed to have any effect on attention capacity. In this study, boys were much more sensitive than girls to the effects of both PM2.5 and black carbon.

    “Above all, we do not want to create the impression that walking to school is bad for children’s health because the opposite is true: walking or cycling to school, which builds physical activity into the child’s daily routine, has health benefits that far outweigh any negative impact of air pollution” explains Jordi Sunyer, head of ISGlobal’s Child Health Programme and co-author of the study.

    “The fact that children who walk to school may be more exposed to pollution does not mean that children who commute by car or on public transport are not also exposed to high levels. His colleague Mar Álvarez-Pedrerol goes on to explain “The solution is the same for everyone: reduce the use of private vehicles for the school run and create less polluted and safer home-to-school routes.”

    This is the first time that a team of scientists has studied the potential impact on cognitive development of exposure to air pollution in children who walk to school.