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Environment & Energy

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Mon Jun 24, 2024, 02:26 PM Jun 24

Climate change linked to brain damage in children -- and poor kids are at greater risk [View all]

A new study found white matter size is altered by temperature fluctuations — a growing problem in our heating world


A new study from the journal Nature Climate Change reveals a new way that climate change disproportionately impacts impoverished individuals: It alters their brains before they are even born. It all comes down to the delicate relationship between external temperatures and the healthy development of a fetus.

By examining the patients with magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) over the years, they learned that infants and toddlers exposed to heat and cold during pregnancy and their early years are more likely during preadolescence to have structural problems with the myelin and white matter in their brain. Additionally, their brains will have reduced mean diffusivity (MD), or the ease with which water molecules move in brain tissue. Disproportionately, the children who suffer in this way are from low-income backgrounds.

"Children living in poorer neighborhoods were more vulnerable to cold and heat exposure," the authors write. "Our findings suggest that cold and heat exposure in periods of rapid brain development may have lasting impacts on children’s white matter microstructure, a risk that must be considered in the context of ongoing climate change."

"We found an association between cold and heat exposure during pregnancy, infancy and toddlerhood and global MD in children aged 9–12 years," the authors write. "These impacts might worsen in the ongoing climate change emergency, considering the predicted rise in global temperatures and potential increase in extreme cold events." They hypothesize this means that children who suffered exposure to extreme heat or cold during their prenatal stage or early infancy will not develop a healthy white matter, or the part of the brain that is vital for intellectual activities, balance and allowing various regions of the body to connect and receive signals.

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