Short-term effect of air pollution on attention function in adolescents (ATENC!Ó): A randomized controlled trial in high schools in Barcelona, Spain

Environ Int. 2021 Nov;156:106614. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2021.106614. Epub 2021 May 14.

Abstract

Background: The recent evidence of the short-term impact of air pollution on youth cognitive functions is based primarily on observational studies.

Objectives: We conducted a randomized controlled trial to assess whether purifying the air of the classrooms produced short-term changes in attention processes of adolescents.

Methods: We recruited a total of 2,123 adolescents (13-16 years old) in 33 high schools in Barcelona metropolitan area (Spain). In each school, adolescents from each class were randomly split into two equal-sized groups and assigned to two different classrooms. A set of two air cleaner devices with the same appearance (one recirculating and filtrating the air and the other only recirculating the air) was used. Each one of the devices was placed at random at one of the two classrooms. Students were masked to intervention allocation and had to complete several computerized activities for 1.5 h, including an attention test (Flanker task) to be performed at baseline and at the end of the intervention. The response speed consistency, expressed as hit reaction time standard error (HRT-SE, in ms), was measured as the primary outcome. Analyses were conducted using conditional linear regressions with classroom as strata, adjusted for variables that may differ from one class to another such as temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide concentration.

Results: Average levels of PM2.5 and black carbon throughout the 1.5 h of experiment were 89% and 87%, respectively, lower in the classrooms with air cleaner than in the control classrooms. No differences were found in the median of HRT-SE between classrooms with cleaned air and normal air (percent change: 1.37%, 95% confidence interval: -2.81%, 5.56%). Sensitivity analyses with secondary attention outcomes resulted in similar findings.

Conclusions: Cleaning the air of a classroom to reduce exposure to air pollutants for 1.5 h did not have an impact on the attention function of adolescents. Still, in light of previous evidence suggesting an association between air pollution and attention, further experimental studies should explore other short-term timescales of exposure and age ranges.

Keywords: Adolescents; Air pollution; Attention; High school; Randomized controlled trial.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Air Pollutants* / analysis
  • Air Pollution* / adverse effects
  • Attention
  • Humans
  • Particulate Matter / analysis
  • Schools
  • Spain

Substances

  • Air Pollutants
  • Particulate Matter