students taking notes Photo: Tima Miroshnichenko /

Pollution in Denmark may have an impact on students’ grades

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Pollution from cars, agriculture, and wood stoves may potentially have a negative effect on children’s cognitive development. This is indicated by a new study examining Danish students’ final grades in primary school.

In most of Denmark, there is up to double the amount of air pollution as recommended by the WHO. The situation is worst in heavily trafficked cities and southern Denmark, where polluting winds come from Southern Europe.

Previous research shows that polluted air can affect our health. Air pollution is linked to a higher risk of respiratory diseases and cardiovascular diseases, and in children, air pollution can result in asthma and respiratory infections.

But now, a new registry data study from the University of Copenhagen of 800,000 graduating students suggests that air pollution may affect children’s grades in primary school.

One of the researchers behind the new study is Associate Professor Youn-Hee Lim from the Department of Public Health Science, who is an expert in large data analyses.

“When we compare children exposed to air pollution that stays below the level recommended by the WHO with children exposed to air pollution above that level, there is a significant difference in their average final grades,” says Youn-Hee Lim.

She explains that children living at the least polluted addresses, on average, score a whole grade higher than children from the most polluted addresses in all five exam subjects.

At the same time, Youn-Hee Lim and her colleagues emphasize that they cannot establish a direct causal relationship where one can definitively say that air pollution leads to lower grades with 100 percent certainty.

The researchers have identified a strong correlation between pollution and grades on the final exam, where they have also accounted for the family’s socioeconomic background, parents’ education, etc., making other explanations for the correlation highly unlikely.

The researchers find the connection between pollution and students’ cognitive development concerning, as lower cognitive development not only affects children’s health but also their future educational levels and income.

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