Poor air quality is associated with impaired visual cognition in the first two years of life: A longitudinal investigation

Elife. 2023 Apr 25;12:e83876. doi: 10.7554/eLife.83876.


Background: Poor air quality has been linked to cognitive deficits in children, but this relationship has not been examined in the first year of life when brain growth is at its peak.

Methods: We measured in-home air quality focusing on particulate matter with diameter of <2.5 μm (PM2.5) and infants' cognition longitudinally in a sample of families from rural India.

Results: Air quality was poorer in homes that used solid cooking materials. Infants from homes with poorer air quality showed lower visual working memory scores at 6 and 9 months of age and slower visual processing speed from 6 to 21 months when controlling for family socio-economic status.

Conclusions: Thus, poor air quality is associated with impaired visual cognition in the first two years of life, consistent with animal studies of early brain development. We demonstrate for the first time an association between air quality and cognition in the first year of life using direct measures of in-home air quality and looking-based measures of cognition. Because indoor air quality was linked to cooking materials in the home, our findings suggest that efforts to reduce cooking emissions should be a key target for intervention.

Funding: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant OPP1164153.

Keywords: air quality; cognitive development; epidemiology; global health; human; infancy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants*
  • Air Pollution* / analysis
  • Air Pollution, Indoor* / analysis
  • Cognition
  • Particulate Matter


  • Air Pollutants
  • Particulate Matter

Grant support

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.