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Childhood obesity linked to air pollution from vehicles

Early exposure to air pollution from vehicles increases the risk of children becoming obese, new research has found.

High levels of nitrogen dioxide, which is emitted by diesel engines, in the first year of life led to significantly faster weight gain later, the scientists found. Other pollutants produced by road traffic have also been linked to obesity in children by recent studies.

Nitrogen dioxide pollution is at illegal levels in most urban areas in the UK and the government has lost three times in the high court over the inadequacy of its plans. The pollutant also plagues many cities in Europe and around the world.

“We would urge parents to be mindful where their young children spend their time, especially considering if those areas are near major roads,” said Jeniffer Kim, at the University of Southern California, who led the new research. “The first year of life is a period of rapid development of various systems in the body [and] may prime the body’s future development.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) revealed last Monday that 90% of the world’s children are breathing unsafe air, a situation described as “inexcusable” by the WHO’s head. Concern over the impact of toxic air on children’s health is rising as research reveals serious long-term damage to both their physical and mental health.

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