Long-term exposure to ambient air pollution and incidence of depression: A population-based cohort study in China

Sci Total Environ. 2022 Jan 15:804:149986. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.149986. Epub 2021 Sep 4.


Background: Long-term exposure to ambient air pollution was linked to depression incidence, although the results were limited and inconsistent.

Objectives: To investigate the effects of long-term air pollution exposure on depression risk prospectively in China.

Methods: The present study used data from Yinzhou Cohort on adults without depression at baseline, and followed up until April 2020. Two-year moving average concentrations of particulate matter with a diameter ≤ 2.5 μm (PM2.5), ≤10 μm (PM10) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) were measured using land-use regression (LUR) models for each participant. Depression cases were ascertained using the Health Information System (HIS) of the local health administration by linking the unique identifiers. We conducted Cox regression models with time-varying exposures to estimate the hazard ratios (HRs) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CIs) of depression with each pollutant, after adjusting for a sequence of individual covariates as demographic characteristics, lifestyles, and comorbidity. Besides, physical activity, baseline potential depressive symptoms, cancer status, COVID-19 pandemic, different outcome definitions and air pollution exposure windows were considered in sensitivity analyses.

Results: Among the 30,712 adults with a mean age of 62.22 ± 11.25, 1024 incident depression cases were identified over totaling 98,619 person-years of observation. Interquartile range increments of the air pollutants were associated with increased risks of depression, and the corresponding HRs were 1.59 (95%CI: 1.46, 1.72) for PM2.5, 1.49 (95%CI: 1.35, 1.64) for PM10 and 1.58 (95%CI: 1.42, 1.77) for NO2. Subgroup analyses suggested that participants without taking any protective measures towards air pollution were more susceptible. The results remained robust in all sensitivity analyses.

Conclusions: Long-term exposure to ambient air pollution was identified as a risk factor for depression onset. Strategies to reduce air pollution are necessary to decrease the disease burden of depression.

Keywords: Air pollution; Cohort; Depression; Long-term exposure.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Air Pollutants* / adverse effects
  • Air Pollutants* / analysis
  • Air Pollution* / adverse effects
  • Air Pollution* / analysis
  • COVID-19*
  • China / epidemiology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Nitrogen Dioxide / analysis
  • Pandemics
  • Particulate Matter / adverse effects
  • Particulate Matter / analysis
  • SARS-CoV-2


  • Air Pollutants
  • Particulate Matter
  • Nitrogen Dioxide