A report by the World Health Organization summarizes the latest research on linkages between air pollution and child health.
The report distinguishes between ambient air pollution and household air pollution and their sources, noting that air pollution was linked to the deaths of approximately 543,000 children under 5 years old in 2016.
Although air pollution is a global issue, the report emphasizes that impacts from fine particulate matter are most acutely felt in low- and middle-income countries.
29 October 2018: A study by the World Health Organization (WHO) summarizes the latest research on linkages between air pollution and child health. Noting that air pollution affects children “in uniquely damaging ways,” the report finds that 93% of children under 15 around the world breathe toxic air daily.
The report titled, ‘Air Pollution and Child Health: Prescribing Clean Air,’ distinguishes between ambient air pollution (AAP) and household air pollution (HAP) and their sources, noting that the two have contributed to respiratory tract infections which ultimately killed approximately 543,000 children under 5 years old in 2016. The paper underscores that more than one in every four deaths of children under 5 is related to environmental risks. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus drove the issue home in a press release issued for the report’s launch. “Polluted air is poisoning millions of children and ruining their lives,” he stated. “This is inexcusable.”
According to the report, children are at particular risk due to their rapid breathing compared to adults, smaller size, the fact that they live and breathe closer to the ground where pollutants may concentrate, and proximity to polluting fuels used for cooking and heating. They can be exposed to air pollution in utero, through inhalation or through ingestion.
Polluted air is poisoning millions of children and ruining their lives.
WHO stresses that although air pollution is a global issue, the fine particulate matter (PM2.5) which contributes to health impacts and deaths is a burden most acutely felt by low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) – especially those in regions that use polluting fuels for cooking, heating and lighting. Whereas 98% of children under 5 in LMICs are exposed to PM2.5 levels above WHO air quality guidelines, the figure for high-income countries (HICs) stands at 52%.
The report highlights the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as an opportunity to recognize the interlinkages between air pollution and cities (SDG 11), energy (SDG 7), climate action (SDG 13) and health (SDG 3). Towards achieving SDG 7, it cites prior WHO guidance for indoor air quality on household fuel combustion, which discourage the use of kerosene and unprocessed coal due to their health hazards in favor of cleaner biomass and other sources of energy.
Additional findings cover air pollution’s effects on cognitive abilities; negative impacts on mental, motor and lung development; and note that pregnant women who are exposed to air pollution are at increased risk of giving birth prematurely, to underweight children. Recommendations to health professionals emphasize the importance of being informed on air pollution as a risk factor; recognizing exposure; “prescribing” solutions such as switching to clean cooking fuels; and playing an advocacy role when sharing knowledge with policymakers.
The report was released prior to the first Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health, held from 30 October to 1 November 2018 at WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. [Publication: Air Pollution and Child Health: Prescribing Clean Air (Advance Copy)] [Report Summary] [Publication Landing Page] [WHO Press Release]