Air pollution exposure linked to high blood pressure in teenagers 

Air pollution exposure linked to high blood pressure in teenagers 
© iStock/JohnnyGreig

King’s College London researchers have found that long-term exposure to air pollution increases the risk of high blood pressure in teenagers. 

Air pollution exposure is quickly becoming a growing health burden on the general population. Many studies have illuminated the detrimental effects, including causing irreversible damage to important body parts such as the lungs. A new review by researchers from King’s College London analysed eight studies with 15,000 adolescents to search for a link between high blood pressure in teenagers and pollution. Five of these were conducted in Europe, whereas previous reviews included many China-based studies where pollution levels are higher.  

High blood pressure in teenagers and children is a risk factor for hypertension and heart disease in adulthood. When blood pressure gets too high, it becomes hypertension which causes heart attacks and strokes.  

Is high blood pressure in teenagers common?

It is estimated that around one in 25 individuals aged 12-19 have hypertension and around one in ten have high blood pressure. These figures leave teenagers and children at risk of serious yet preventable diseases in adulthood unless identified and treated early.  

One of the greatest risk factors for high blood pressure in teenagers is obesity. However, underlying medical issues such as kidney disease can incite high blood pressure. More studies are also revealing how external events can contribute to high blood pressure risk such as air pollution.   

The detrimental effects of long-term air pollution exposure

The review found twelve-year-olds and older adolescents have higher diastolic blood pressure when they experience long-term exposure, such as living in a highly polluted area, to fine particulate air pollution, known as PM2.5 and PM10. Particulate matter is often expelled by car exhausts, wood smoke or combustion in the construction and manufacturing industries. Children who live in deprived areas are more at risk of high pollution levels.  

Studies examining high blood pressure in teenagers and children are sparse, compared to adult studies. Whilst the quality of the studies was low, the review highlights a considerable association between air pollution and high blood pressure in teenagers. It also supports previous evidence of a disproportionate impact of pollution on blood pressure in teenagers and children who are overweight or obese.  The researchers analysed short-term exposure to pollution and its impact, but no association was found. 

Lead author Professor Seeromanie Harding from King’s College London said: “We observed significant associations in adolescents aged twelve for diastolic blood pressure, the part of blood pressure which rises most often in children or adolescents, and long-term exposures to pollution. Reducing environmental pollution is an urgent public health priority to protect our children’s futures. It is critical to have high-quality studies which include assessments by gender, socio-economic circumstances and weight status, to track children’s exposure to pollution and prevent an adverse impact on their health.” 

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