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Clean Air Really Does Mean Healthier Kids

The Short of It

How much does the pollution in the air really affect your children's health? A lot, as it turns out. New research published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that reducing air pollution improved lung health in kids ages 11 to 15.

The Lowdown

It makes sense that polluted air can make it harder to breathe. And as the New York Times notes, "Scientists have long known that air pollution is linked to smaller lung capacity and compromised breathing in children." What's not been crystal clear, though, is whether curbing pollution could prevent these same issues.

That's where the NEJM study comes in. As Southern California's air has gotten cleaner, researchers wondered if kids' lung health was getting better, as well. They measured the lung function of more than 2,000 kids in five communities around Los Angeles over more than a dozen years. (The measurements were taken annually during three time periods: 1994–1998, 1997–2001, and 2007–2011.) Their findings? "[L]ong-term improvements in air quality were associated with statistically and clinically significant positive effects on lung-function growth in children."

The Upshot

While the study's leader, W. James Gauderman, says there's still room for improvement, the findings are a breath of fresh air for our kids. Less pollution and better breathing can set them on the path to a long and healthy life, with less susceptibility to heart and lung disease.

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