Air pollution and lack of physical activity pose competing threats to children in China

January 11, 2017
Brad Cardinal is a kinesiology professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University and a national expert on the benefits of physical activity. Credit: Oregon State University

Children and adolescents in mainland China are facing two serious and conflicting public health threats: ongoing exposure to air pollution and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle with little regular physical activity outside school.

Health workers and policymakers need to find ways to address both of these issues so that can be more physically active without suffering the health risks caused by exposure to , an Oregon State University researcher suggests in a new commentary published this month in the Journal of Pediatrics.

"The question is how do we balance the virtues of physical activity with the hazards of air pollution?" said Brad Cardinal, a kinesiology professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University and a national expert on the benefits of physical activity. "Ultimately, we have to find ways for people to stay active despite the air pollution."

Many cities and countries around the world grapple with air pollution issues, but there is particular concern for children growing up in China in part because they tend to commute more on foot or bike and their playgrounds and sports fields are often found near busy streets or highways, Cardinal said. The impacts of air pollution contributed to 1.2 million deaths in 2010.

At the same time, very few Chinese children today are participating in moderate or outside of school, and the number of overweight and obese children in China has more than doubled in the last 25 years.

Children are particularly susceptible to adverse health impacts from both short- and long-term exposure to air pollution, in part because they have higher rates of respiration and tend to take shallower breaths. Air pollution has been associated with increases in asthma, chronic cough and other respiratory problems in children that are likely to be exacerbated by heavy breathing from vigorous exercise, Cardinal said.

So how do officials approach these competing challenges? Cardinal and his co-author, Qi Si of Zhejiang University in China and a former visiting scholar at OSU, suggest the two problems should be addressed together.

They recommend four urgent steps for health officials and policymakers who are grappling with these issues:

* Increase awareness among parents, children, , educators, and policymakers on the causes and impacts of air pollution on children and adolescents, as well as the potential harm when coupled with outdoor physical activity

* Add air quality systems at school sites, so pollution can be measured when and where children are engaging in physical activity

* Adjust the intensity of outdoor physical activity during the school day on the basis of air pollution monitoring results

* Educate children about exercising in polluted environments, including instruction to stop activity when they notice problems such as coughing, chest tightness or wheezing

Since schools are the base for much of the physical activity of today's children, they are a critical piece in addressing both issues, Cardinal said. Monitoring the micro-climate at a school would provide better, more localized information for school officials making decisions about whether children should be outside exercising or at what level of intensity.

"Doing some kind of physical activity, even if it is not as vigorous, is still better than having no for the children," he said.

Clothing accessories or fitness equipment could also be designed to help protect children from pollution during outdoor play activities on days when air quality levels were low, he said.

"The goal is to get people thinking about these complex problems and real-world solutions," Cardinal said. "The hope is that someone will innovate appropriate solutions for addressing both of these problems."

Explore further: Study finds that few children meet daily exercise guideline goals

More information: Qi Si et al, The Health Impact of Air Pollution and Outdoor Physical Activity on Children and Adolescents in Mainland China, The Journal of Pediatrics (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2016.10.016

Related Stories

Study finds that few children meet daily exercise guideline goals

January 9, 2017
Guidelines recommend that children get an hour of exercise every day, including a half hour during school. Unfortunately, a study finds that few kids are meeting that goal, with girls particularly likely to fall short during ...

First study to show parents' concerns about neighborhood restrict kids' outdoor play

January 10, 2017
A study conducted by LSU Health New Orleans School of Public Health is the first to demonstrate that parents who are concerned about their neighborhoods restrict their children's outdoor play. The study is published in the ...

Parent's physical activity associated with preschooler activity in underserved populations

January 9, 2017
Preschool-age children from low-income families are more likely to be physically active if parents increase activity and reduce sedentary behavior while wearing movement monitors (accelerometers), according to a Vanderbilt ...

Exchanging sedentariness for low-intensity physical activity can prevent weight gain in children

October 20, 2016
As little as 10 minutes of high-intensity physical activity per day reduces the amount of adipose tissue and enhances cardiorespiratory fitness in 6-8-year-old children, according to a new study from the University of Eastern ...

Recommended for you

Small drop in measles vaccinations would have outsized effect, study estimates

July 24, 2017
Small reductions in childhood measles vaccinations in the United States would produce disproportionately large increases in the number of measles cases and in related public health costs, according to a new study by researchers ...

At the cellular level, a child's loss of a father is associated with increased stress

July 18, 2017
The absence of a father—due to incarceration, death, separation or divorce—has adverse physical and behavioral consequences for a growing child. But little is known about the biological processes that underlie this link ...

New comparison chart sheds light on babies' tears

July 10, 2017
A chart that enables parents and clinicians to calculate if a baby is crying more than it should in the first three months of its life has been created by a Kingston University London researcher, following a study of colic ...

Blood of SIDS infants contains high levels of serotonin

July 3, 2017
Blood samples from infants who died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) had high levels of serotonin, a chemical that carries signals along and between nerves, according to a study funded in part by the National Institutes ...

Is your child's 'penicillin allergy' real?

July 3, 2017
(HealthDay)—Many children suspected of being allergic to the inexpensive, first-line antibiotic penicillin actually aren't, new research indicates.

Probiotic supplements failed to prevent babies' infections

July 3, 2017
(HealthDay)—Probiotic supplements may not protect babies from catching colds or stomach bugs in day care, a new clinical trial suggests.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.