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Traffic and Children’s Health

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Air quality has improved dramatically in the last two decades, largely due to the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, which were designed to curb acid rain, urban air pollution, and toxic air emissions. Even with these improvements, a new study finds that traffic may still be harmful to children’s respiratory health.

Mary Rice M.D., and Emily Oken M.D., members of our Affiliated Faculty, examined whether children born to mothers who lived close to a busy roadway while pregnant had an increased risk of respiratory infections in their early childhood (age 0-3).

The study calculated how far from an interstate highway each of the 1,263 pregnant women lived during pregnancy, then followed each mother-child pair from birth until the child’s early childhood visit, which took place around the age of 3. The study found that children born to mothers living within a 100-meter radius of a highway during pregnancy had a 30% higher risk of developing a respiratory infection such as pneumonia, bronchiolitis, and croup.

The findings suggest that living close to a major roadway during pregnancy may predispose the developing lung to infection in early life.

Aaron Bernstein, MD, MPH

Aaron Bernstein is the Interim Director of The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, and an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics.

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