High levels of air pollution lead to shortened life expectancy for children around the world, according to the findings of a new study.
Researchers warn that air pollution is shortening children’s lives by 20 months on average, based on data outlined in a new report, “State of Global Air 2019: A Special Report on Global Exposure to Air Pollution and Its Disease Burden”.
The findings are part of a collaboration between the Health Effects Institute and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s Global Burden of Disease Project, warning that, on average, children’s life expectancy is being shortened by nearly two years. This holds true for children in North America and other areas of the world with moderate pollution levels. However, children in East Asia face a reduced life expectancy of 23 months and children in South Asia, in countries like India and Pakistan, will die 30 months earlier than other children around the world.
South Asian countries have the highest levels of pollution and the worst air quality, putting children in those countries at the most risk. Nearly 90% of the world’s population live in areas with poor air quality.
Research published last year indicated air pollution reduces life expectancy for adults dramatically. In Africa, that results in a death nearly two years earlier, while in Asia, people are more likely to die a year earlier than those in areas with clean air.
Air pollution causes more people to die at earlier ages due to problems like cardiovascular disease and respiratory illnesses, like asthma, researchers say. Another study even linked air pollution exposure to heart damage in children.
One of the leading causes of air pollution is particulate matter 2.5 (PM 2.5), which is a type of air pollution made up of tiny particles of dust, dirt, smoke, soot and liquid smaller than 2.5 micrometers. In comparison, one strand of hair is 70 micrometers, roughly 30 times the size of a PM 2.5 particle.
Asia and African countries face the greatest risk because levels of PM 2.5 are the highest from regular use of cooking fuels like coal and charcoal. South Asia and East Asia also have high PM 2.5 levels from dust form construction, industrial manufacturing, power plants, vehicle emissions, and diesel-powered equipment.
The report noted that some cities in China have made progress, dropping PM 2.5 levels after strict government regulations. However, on average Chinese air pollution is far below World Health Organization (WHO) air quality standards. China had the highest death rate due to air pollution with 850,000 deaths in 2017.
Air pollution is the fifth leading risk factor for death worldwide. It leads to more deaths than alcohol, malnutrition, and physical inactivity. Each year, more people die from air pollution-related diseases than road traffic injuries.
In 2017, air pollution caused 4.9 million deaths. India and China accounted for half of the nearly 5 million deaths globally due to air pollution.
If WHO air pollution guideline levels were met, life expectancy globally would increase. In Bangladesh, life expectancy would increase 1.3 years, the organization estimates.