The relationship between air pollution and poor health in children
-According to the World Health Organization, about 90% of children breathe toxic air every day.
-Research shows that exposure to air pollution can lead to long-term health problems and even death.
-We outline the key measures needed to combat the environmental health risks of air pollution.
The relationship between air pollution and poor health in children is not fully understood. But studies so far have shown that exposure to air pollution inhibits growth and inhibits brain and lung development in children. And in a landmark case, in 2020, air pollution was directly attributed to the death of a nine-year-old girl (Ella Kissi-Debrah) in London.
Air pollution negatively affects children all over the world. It negatively impacts our children's learning, health, and overall well-being. Children are particularly vulnerable to the health effects of air pollution, as they have faster breathed rates than adults and their smaller bodies result in proportionally higher intakes of air pollutants compared to adults.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 90% of our children breathe toxic air every day. This poses a serious risk to their physical and mental development. A major concern for children is their exposure to traffic-related air pollution on their way to school.
Air pollution significantly increases morbidity from common pediatric conditions such as asthma. Pollution from automobile traffic alone is responsible for an estimated 13% of the global incidence of asthma among children (a measure of the likelihood that healthy people at risk will develop a particular disease in a given period of time).
A similar study found that long-term exposure to air pollution was associated with lower mid-childhood lung function. In addition to impairing lung function, fossil fuel pollution causes decreased birth weight, increased preterm birth and worsened mental health in children.
The most important driver of neonatal deaths from air pollution in LMICs (Low-Middle Income Countries) is indoor air pollution (produced by cooking using solid fuels), which accounts for almost two-thirds of newborn deaths worldwide. These statistics show an urgent need for air pollution for children globally, especially for minorities and people in LMICs who bear the disproportionate burden of the crisis.
What can be done to improve air quality and child health?
There are many strategies that can promote air pollution reduction, from the individual consumer to international organizations. With the increase in technology and developments in transportation, there has been an increase in the pressures for clean transportation. Although it may seem small, using public transport, cycling or just walking is one of the most effective ways for an individual to reduce their own carbon footprint and air pollution.
Promoting safe walking routes for children is an important way to reduce their exposure to air pollution on their way to school and school-related activities. Mapping walking routes with minimal air pollution and reduced emissions is an initiative that school districts can take to help their students lead healthier lives. This is particularly important in LMICs where many children use high exposure methods such as walking to school.
It is estimated that 1.7 million child deaths each year can be attributed to environmental pollution. In many LMICs, the risk of outdoor and indoor air pollution is increased due to limited access to safe and environmentally friendly resources. Simple stoves require unsafe fuel burning practices that use kerosene and biomass, such as animal manure and wood. More than 2.5 billion people in the world cook with an open fire, which significantly increases the amount of air pollution not only in their homes but also in the surrounding open spaces. The residual effects of this form of air pollution combined with air pollution from motor vehicles and many other factors threaten the health and safety of our children to a great extent.
As we finished COP26 last November and celebrated International Children's Day on 20 November 2021, a collaborative global effort to guarantee clean air for our children should be top priority. A healthier world requires creating a safe and healthy environment for children to grow and learn. The status quo has put this new generation at a significant disadvantage. We must take action to ensure that every child can walk to school and enjoy the playground without facing an increased risk of asthma, cancer and cardiovascular disease. Our children are dying from polluted air. Now is the time to act.
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Children are dying from air pollution