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Air Pollution’s Increasing Death Threat

Those Under 65 At Particular Risk

The impact of air pollution on mental well-being

By John Salak –

A nationwide study that covered more than 300 million people from 3,000 U.S. counties, identified links suggesting that air pollution is putting those under 65 years old at increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

The research presented recently to the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) claims air pollution is creating greater stress and depression in these individuals, which in turn is raising the risk of cardiovascular disease-related deaths. Ultimately, it found that people living in highly polluted areas who suffered from mental illness had three times the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than others who lived in less polluted areas.

“Our study indicates that the air we breathe affects our mental well-being, which in turn impacts heart health,” noted study lead author Dr. Shady Abohashem of Harvard Medical School.

Air pollution has already been linked to millions of deaths. In fact, the World Health Organization reports that more than 4.2 million premature deaths were connected to air pollution worldwide in 2019—a number that has risen significantly since then. The organization also notes that virtually the entire world population—99 percent—lives in areas where air quality standards are not met.

Mental health issues have also been linked to premature deaths. Studies show that those with severe mental illness issues may die 10 to 20 years earlier than others for a variety of reasons.

Abohashem’s study focused on identifying a potential connection between increased air pollution, rising mental health illnesses and increased mortality rates for those under 65.

Researchers specifically zeroed in on the impact of fine particles or PM2.5 that come from vehicle exhaust fumes, power plant combustion and burning wood. Working with data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they collected information on the average number of days that county residents experienced mental health issues such as stress, depression and emotional problems Each county was then grouped into one of three tiers with the top third reporting the most days of poor mental health (PMH). Age-adjusted premature cardiovascular mortality rates for those under 65 years were then established for each county.

The impact of pollution on mental health was clearly established. Counties with dirty air or high PM2.5 concentrations were 10 percent more likely to report high levels of PMH days compared to counties with clean air. This risk was markedly greater in counties with a high prevalence of minority groups or poverty.

The study also found that the link between PMH and premature cardiovascular mortality was strongest in counties with higher levels of air pollution. Higher levels of PMH in these counties were associated with a three-fold increase in premature cardiovascular mortality compared to lower PMH levels.

“Our results reveal a dual threat from air pollution: it not only worsens mental health but also significantly amplifies the risk of heart-related deaths associated with poor mental health,” Abohashem reported. “Public health strategies are urgently needed to address both air quality and mental wellbeing in order to preserve cardiovascular health.”





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