Cognitive function of 6-year old children exposed to mold-contaminated homes in early postnatal period. Prospective birth cohort study in Poland

In the last decade, the neurologic effects of various air pollutants have been the focus of increasing attention. The main purpose of this study was to assess the potential impact of early childhood exposure to indoor molds on the subsequent cognitive function of 6-year old children. The results of this study are based on the six-year follow-up of 277 babies born at term to mothers participating in a prospective cohort study in Krakow, Poland. The study participants are all non-smoking pregnant women who were free of chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.

The presence of visible mold patches on indoor walls was monitored at regular time intervals over gestation and after birth up to the age of five. The Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC-R) was administered to children at age 6. The exposure effect of living in mold-contaminated homes on the IQ scores of children was adjusted for major confounders, known to be important for the cognitive development of children such as maternal education, the child’s gender, breastfeeding practices in infancy, the presence of older siblings and the prenatal exposure to lead and environmental tobacco smoke (ETS).

The adjusted IQ deficit attributed to longer exposures to indoor molds (N2 years) was significantly lower on the IQ scale (beta coeff.=−9.16, 95%CI: −15.21, −3.10) and tripled the risk of low IQ scoring (OR=3.53; 95%CI: 1.11–11.27) compared with references. While maternal education (beta coeff.=0.61, 95%CI: 0.05, 1.17) and breastfeeding (beta coeff.=4.0; 95%CI: 0.84, 7.17) showed a significant positive impact on cognitive function, prenatal ETS exposure (beta coeff.=−0.41; 95%CI:−0.79,−0.03) and the presence of older siblings (beta coefficient=−3.43; 95%CI: −5.67, −1.20) were associated with poorer cognitive function in children.

In conclusion, the results of this study draw attention to the harmful effect of early postnatal exposure to indoor molds on children’s cognitive development and provide additional evidence on the role of environmental determinants in human cognitive development.

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