A new research has shown that air pollution causes a huge reduction in intelligence while indicating that the damage caused by toxic air is far deeper than the well-known impacts on physical health.
The research, which was conducted in China, but relevant across the world, said with 95 per cent of the global population breathing unsafe found that high pollution levels led to significant drops in test scores in language and arithmetic, with the average impact equivalent to having lost a year of the person’s education.
A member of the research team at Yale School of Public Health in the US, Xi Chen said: “Polluted air can cause everyone to reduce their level of education by one year, which is huge. But we know the effect is worse for the elderly, especially those over 64, and for men, and for those with low education. If we calculate [the loss] for those, it may be a few years of education.”
According to the report published in The Guardian Weekly, previous research has found that air pollution harms cognitive performance in students, but this is the first to examine people of all ages and the difference between men and women.
The damage in intelligence was worst for those over 64 years old, with serious consequences, said Chen:
Air pollution causes seven million premature deaths a year but the harm to people’s mental abilities is less well known.
A recent study found toxic air was linked to “extremely high mortality” in people with mental disorders and earlier work linked it to increased mental illness in children, while another analysis found those living near busy roads had an increased risk of dementia.
They found the longer people were exposed to dirty air, the bigger the damage to intelligence, with language ability more harmed than mathematical ability and men more harmed than women.
Chen said there is no shortcut to solve this issue, “Governments really need to take concrete measures to reduce air pollution. That may benefit human capital, which is one of the most important driving forces of economic growth.”