Stressful Environment May Increase Lung Damage in Children

According to a new study from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, children who are exposed to high stress environments experience higher levels of traffic-related pollution (TRP) resulting in increased risk for lung damage. “This is the first study demonstrating that growing up in a stressful household was associated with larger traffic pollution-induced lung deficits in healthy children compared to low stress households,” said lead researcher Talat Islam, MBBS, assistant professor in the Division of Environmental Health at Keck School of Medicine. The researchers assessed the respiratory function of 1,400 children between the ages of 10 and 12, examining their exposure to toxins including nitrogen dioxide and nitric oxide, at both home and school. They used the Perceived Stress Scale to determine the level of stress in the parents.

The results showed that Asian and Hispanic parents reported the highest level of perceived stress, as well as households with annual incomes under $30,000. Other factors that were linked to higher stress levels were lower education among parents, lack of health insurance and homes with no air conditioning. Children in environments with high stress levels had a 4.5 percent decreased amount of lung volume. “Based on the emerging data we expected to see a modifying effect of stress,” said Dr. Islam. “However, we were surprised by the magnitude of effect.” The findings were linked to TRP exposure in both school and home environments. “Children in this age group spend almost one-third of their day-time hours at school so exposure at school is an important contributor to total exposure,” said Dr. Islam. He added, “One possible explanation for the stress-related pattern of TRP respiratory effects is the biological pathways common to effects of TRP and stress. Like air pollution, stress has been linked to both inflammation and oxidative damage at the cellular level, so this may explain the association.”

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Charlie


    June 29th, 2011 at 3:53 AM

    Stress affects lungs??I had no idea whatsoever!Im gonna read the entire article about the study,thanks for the link!

  • Cat


    June 29th, 2011 at 4:28 AM

    I think that this could be a correlation or it could actually be that kids in lower income homes are exposed to more environmental pollutants and that it actually has nothing to do with the stress in the home. Good grief there are a million things that this could be and there is no real proof that one thing is definitively causing this damage to the lungs.

  • Tony Thomson

    Tony Thomson

    June 29th, 2011 at 6:41 PM

    When I read high stress, I expect what would actually cause stress. Why on earth would your mood have anything to do with how many chemicals you get exposed to? That doesn’t make any sense. Did the researchers publish that and hope nobody smart would read it?

  • petsmart


    June 30th, 2011 at 4:47 AM

    All the more reason to nurture and love your kids, giving them the very best home environment possible. Cannot imagine setting my child up to a lifetime of lung and breathing problems because of the stress that I create in the home.

  • ben


    June 30th, 2011 at 11:50 PM

    stress can squeeze the life out of you. been through a lot of it in the past and I know how it is. would never ever want to go back to such a state. you see, stress is everywhere and it is impossible to completely get rid of it. but our aim should be to be able to keep it under control and to never let it spiral out of control or reach quantities that we cannot handle.

  • Joel Close

    Joel Close

    July 1st, 2011 at 9:11 PM

    @Tony Thomson – If your comment’s anything to go by, doesn’t look like anyone has yet…LOL. What the stress does is weaken their bodies, which is a normal effect of stress. This in turn lowers their overall health and makes them more vulnerable to chemicals that are naturally in the air.

    What the headline should say is “Stress weakens children’s resistance to pollutants.” Then again you could have read it to the very end.

  • Jason


    July 3rd, 2011 at 2:06 PM

    This is something that we all have to start taking a little more seriously. Look at all of the ways that we can add a worry free environment to a kid, and all of the ways that we can screw it up. We have to commit to providing a healthier lifestyle for our children at home and at school because obviously what we are giving them now is not getting the job done.

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