Is there a connection with autism and the polluted air we breathe? While we cannot prove it yet, we do know that autism is on the rise in the United States, and recent research seems to draw a correlation to those statistics and smog. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the prevalence of autism increased 57% from 2002 to 2006. The most recent statistics on the CDC website estimate autism to affect a scary one in every eight children now, up from the one in 150 previously reported. These rising statistics have sent researchers scrambling to find some answers to the cause of this troubling disorder. While early research pointed to genetic causes, more recent studies are pointing to environmental factors such as smog.
Although today’s air conditions are much better than they were years ago, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that pollution is still an issue. Drive up to any large city from a distance, and you’re likely to see the haze of smog on the horizon. In fact, according to the American Lung Association, poor air quality still affects 58% of the U.S. population. Now researchers are discovering that this polluted air may be contributing to the abundance of new autism cases being documented.
The Smog Connection
Heather Volk, assistant professor at the Keck School of Medicine, along with a team of four others conducted a study among children in California using addresses from birth certificate and residency surveys to determine location. The results of their study revealed that exposure to pollution, particularly nitrogen dioxide (associated with automobile traffic), during the latter stages of pregnancy and first year of life significantly increased the chance of being diagnosed with autism. These conclusions appear to coincide with findings by Tracy Ann Becerra and a group of UCLA public health researchers.
So, what do these figures tell us? Although no one can point to traffic-related air pollution and say, “this is the cause of autism,” it does provide some food for thought. Those living near interstates appear to have the highest incidents of autism. If this is true, it coincides with mounting evidence that air pollution may contribute to a lot of today’s maladies, including asthma, Alzheimer’s, brain tumors, heart attacks, and premature death.
While the jury is still out on this issue, it may be time that potential parents consider how their place of residence may affect not only their health, but the health of their children.
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