Air pollution is a significant problem for global health, especially in low- to middle-income countries where air quality is not up to the World Health Organization (WHO) standards. Exposure to air pollution worsens existing disease and can increase a person’s risk of dying from lung cancer, lung infections, stroke, heart disease, and COPD. Among children, exposure to air pollution has been shown to increase risk for developing asthma later in life, can increase the number of childhood respiratory infections, and cause problems with neurodevelopment. With all these negative health outcomes, a recent report from the WHO is raising some concerns about a potential health pandemic in the future.
Some highlights of the report:
- 8 billion children under the age of 15 are exposed to unacceptable levels of air pollution.
- 630 million children under the age of 5 are exposed to unacceptable levels of air pollution.
- In low-income countries, a staggering 98% of all children under 5 are exposed to toxic air
- In high-income countries, 52% of children under 5 who are to toxic air.
- In 2016 alone, 600,000 deaths in children under the age of 15 can be attributed to the effects of air pollution.
- Air pollution from the house (cooking fires) and outside (smog) caused more than 50% of lung infections in children under 5 in low-, middle-income countries.
- 1 in every 10 deaths in children under 5 can be attributed to air pollution.
These numbers are staggering and raises concerns about our efforts as a world to reduce air pollution. The risk for chronic disease later in life means that many of these children could go on to have a lifetime of health disability and health inequality. We need to take steps to reduce air pollution and our dependence on combustible fuels, inform and educate the population on the negative health effects of air pollution, and take steps to minimize childhood exposure to air pollution. This could include building schools and daycares away from major roads or power plants, and ensuring that our houses and building have clean energy sources from which to power themselves. This is a problem that can only be fixed by a total buy in from all sectors of government and society.