City air pollution ‘link to teenage psychotic experiences’ explored

Psychotic experiences – such as hearing voices or extreme paranoia – are more common in teenagers living in cities with high pollution than those in rural areas, a study of young people in England and Wales suggests.

Scientists say that their research could provide possible clues about why children in urban areas are more likely to get psychotic disorders later on.

But they caution that much more work is needed to be certain of the link.

The study appears in JAMA Psychiatry.

Scientists from King’s College London tracked some 2,000 teenagers living in urban, semi-urban and rural areas.

Almost a third (623) reported they had been through at least one psychotic experience between the ages of 12 and 18 – for example feeling like people were spying on them or hearing voices no-one else could.

‘Noisy city life’

Researchers matched their responses to detailed estimates of the air pollution each adolescent faced over a year.

  • In areas with the highest levels of pollutant gases (for example inner-city areas near busy roads), there were 12 teenagers who reported psychotic experiences for every 20 who did not
  • In areas with lower levels of nitrogen oxide gases, there were only seven who reported psychotic experiences for every 20 who said they had not had them

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