Intended for healthcare professionals


Air pollution and cognition

BMJ 2018; 363 doi: (Published 27 November 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;363:k4904
  1. Chris J Griffiths, professor of primary care1,
  2. Ian S Mudway, senior lecturer in respiratory toxicology2
  1. 1Barts Institute of Population Health Sciences, Queen Mary University of London, London, UK
  2. 2MRC-PHE Centre in Environment and Health, King’s College London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to: C Griffiths c.j.griffiths{at}

Another reason to cut air pollution and record the health benefits likely to follow

It is almost 20 years since leaded petrol was banned in the UK to protect children’s brains from its damaging effects—a move forced on the delaying UK government by a European directive from Brussels. Other components of traffic related air pollution, including carbon monoxide and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, have also been shown to be neurotoxic,12 and increasing numbers of studies support the view that poor air quality can have adverse effects on the brain, from suboptimal cognitive development in children3 to accelerated cognitive decline in adults.45

In Barcelona, children attending primary schools in high pollution areas had slower rates of cognitive development compared with those attending schools in low pollution areas.3 In adults in China, long term exposure to air pollution has been linked to worse cognitive performance in verbal and maths tests.6

As with all new …

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