Early life PM2.5 exposure, childhood cognitive ability and mortality between age 11 and 86: A record-linkage life-course study from Scotland

Gergo Baranyi*, Lee Williamson, Zhiqiang Feng, Sam Tomlinson, Massimo Vieno, Chris Dibben

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Living in areas with high air pollution concentrations is associated with all-cause and cause-specific mortality. Exposure in sensitive developmental periods might be long-lasting but studies with very long follow-up are rare, and mediating pathways between early life exposure and life-course mortality are not fully understood.

Data were drawn from the Scottish Longitudinal Study Birth Cohort of 1936, a representative record-linkage study comprising 5% of the Scottish population born in 1936. Participants had valid age 11 cognitive ability test scores along with linked mortality data until age 86. Fine particle (PM2.5) concentrations estimated with the EMEP4UK atmospheric chemistry transport model were linked to participants’ residential address derived from the National Identity Register in 1939 (age 3). Confounder-adjusted Cox regression estimated associations between PM2.5 and mortality; regression-based causal mediation analysis explored mediation through childhood cognitive ability.

The final sample consisted of 2734 individuals with 1608 deaths registered during the 1,833,517 person-months at risk follow-up time. Higher early life PM2.5 exposure increased the risk of all-cause mortality (HR = 1.03, 95% CI: 1.01–1.04 per 10 μg m−3 increment), associations were stronger for mortality between age 65 and 86. PM2.5 increased the risk of cancer-related mortality (HR = 1.05, 95% CI: 1.02–1.08), especially for lung cancer among females (HR = 1.11, 95% CI: 1.02–1.21), but not for cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Higher PM2.5 in early life (≥50 μg m−3) was associated with lower childhood cognitive ability, which, in turn, increased the risk of all-cause mortality and mediated 25% of the total associations.

In our life-course study with 75-year of continuous mortality records, we found that exposure to air pollution in early life was associated with higher mortality in late adulthood, and that childhood cognitive ability partly mediated this relationship. Findings suggest that past air pollution concentrations will likely impact health and longevity for decades to come.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Research
Early online date31 Aug 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2023


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