Increasing scientific evidence shows that urban environments influence children’s neurological development, as early as conception. HELIX, a European project, takes a closer look at these issues to identify the environmental factors in cities to which toddlers are the most sensitive. 

An extensive study

Recently, one of the teams involved in this major study researched the impact of several urban exposures on the cognitive and motor development of almost 5,500 children in seven European cities, from their conception to the age of three.

The solid findings of this analysis show that several environmental factors are linked to cognitive and motor functions in children of five.

The factors in question were: built-up environments; natural spaces; and air pollution from fine particles and nitrogen dioxide.

Health issues to be addressed

Some findings put early determinants of children’s development at stake if they have been exposed to certain elements of the urban environment.

For example, children of women whose pregnancies are carried out near a green space (less than 300m away) will have better verbal skills later in life. On the other hand, exposure to micro particles in urban air during pregnancy was linked to weakened motor skills in children when they took certain tests.

The study also confirmed results from previous studies which proved that natural environments reduce the harmful effects of air pollution on children’s cognitive development.

Other studies will be required, of course, to confirm this data but these initial findings enable certain parameters to be considered so that our toddlers can grow up healthily in cities.

To go further :

Article updated on 05/10/22