Study Links Autism To Air Pollution (Maybe Kelly Preston Isn’t Crazy, After All)
A new study about autism says that air pollution–including car exhaust and smog–could be seriously linked to the disease. Authors found that autistic children are two to three times as likely to have been exposed to pollution during their earliest days, drawing even stronger links to certain environmental causes of autism…and making Kelly Preston‘s ideas about environmental autism causes sound just a little more sane.
When Preston said environmental factors were one of Jett Travolta‘s autism causes, a lot of people were creeped out. (It looked suspiciously like she was using her son's tragic death to push a Scientology-based organic diet.) These study authors aren't pushing products as a result of their findings, but they are lending credence to mothers like Preston, who believe that pollution and environmental toxins should be taken seriously as autism causes.
The study, which was conducted in California and published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, was based on data for 500 children. Families provided information about where they had lived while their mothers were pregnant, and during the first year of their childrens' lives. Then, they compiled data about smog, traffic, wind patterns and other air pollution factors to determine which families had lived in the most and least polluted areas. Researchers found that kids who'd been exposed to the highest levels of pollution were far more likely to be diagnosed with autism, as compared to the kids who'd been exposed to pollution the least.
The researchers are emphasizing that they haven't pinned down exact autism causes (or cures). Heather Volk, the lead study author and assistant professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California, explained:
We’re not saying that air pollution causes autism. We’re saying it may be a risk factor for autism. Autism is a complex disorder and it’s likely there are many factors contributing.
Volk says it's still worth considering genetic predispositions, and it's also worth pointing out that pollution levels haven't skyrocketed in the past 30 years at nearly the same rate as autism diagnoses. But their data only reaffirms earlier findings (some from Volk and her colleagues) that draw a connection between pollution and autism spectrum disorders.
So, while you might not need to run out and buy whatever products Kelly Preston is shilling for (and unfortunately, eating organic food doesn't really negate air pollution exposure), she's not all crazy: Environmental pollutants and toxins are worth taking seriously, especially if you have little kids.