Sex difference in the association between solid fuel use and cognitive function in rural China

Haiyan Chen, Li Chen, Guang Hao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Whether indoor air pollution from solid fuel use is associated with cognitive function remains unclear.

OBJECTIVE: This study aims to examine the association of solid fuel use with the risk of cognitive impairment in males and females.

METHODS: The data was from the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study (CHARLS). Self-reported heating and cooking fuel were categorized as clean fuel (solar, liquefied gas, natural gas, or electricity) and solid fuel (coal, biomass charcoal, wood, or straw). Cognitive function, including orientation and attention, episodic memory, and visuospatial abilities, was assessed using standardized questionnaires.

RESULTS: A total of 7824 individuals were included in our study (aged 57.0 ± 9.3, 46.2% female), with 47.0% and 76.0% used solid fuel for cooking and heating, respectively. There was an interaction between sex and solid fuel use for cooking (P=0.008) for the progress of cognitive impairment. Solid fuel use for cooking was associated with a larger decrease in cognitive function score in females (β=-0.832; 95% CI: -1.043, -0.622; P < 0.001) than in males (β=-0.487; 95% CI: -0.671, -0.302; P < 0.001). The sex difference remained with further adjustment of covariates (β=-0.321; 95% CI: -0.503, -0.138; P=0.001 for males; β=-0.534; 95% CI: -0.745, -0.324; P < 0.001 for females). For heating, the interaction between sex and solid fuel was not statistically significant (P=0.156). After controlling for the covariates, solid fuel use for heating was inversely associated with a 0.321 unit of decrease of cognitive function score (β=-0.321; 95% CI: -0.652, 0.009; P=0.057) in males, and a 0.598 unit of decrease of cognitive function (β=-0.598; 95% CI: -0.978, -0.218; P=0.002) in females.

CONCLUSION: In conclusion, solid fuel use for cooking and heating was significantly associated with a higher risk of cognitive impairment. Furthermore, for the first time, we found that the effect of solid fuel use on cognitive function in females was greater than in males.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)110820
JournalEnvironmental Research
StatePublished - Apr 2021


  • Aged
  • Air Pollution, Indoor/adverse effects
  • China
  • Cognition
  • Cooking
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sex Characteristics


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