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Growing up in dirty air ‘quadruples chances of developing depression’

Children who lived in areas with higher air pollution when younger are significantly more likely to have developed major depression by the age of 18, according to research.

In the first analysis of how common air pollutants affect teenage mental health, researchers found young people were three to four times more likely to have depression at 18 if they had been exposed to dirtier air at age 12. Comparison with earlier work indicates that air pollution is a greater risk factor than physical abuse in raising the risk of teenage depression.

The scientists said their findings are particularly significant because 75% of mental health problems begin in childhood or adolescence, when the brain is developing rapidly. The work also suggests a link between toxic air and antisocial behaviour, but more work is needed to confirm this. A larger study is expected later this year.

Of the 284 children studied, those who lived in the top 25% most polluted areas at age 12 were found to be three to four times more likely to have depression at 18, compared with those living in the 25% least polluted areas. In comparison, previous work has shown that children who suffer physical abuse are one and a half times more likely to develop depressive disorders.

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