Authors Martin Williams, Dimitris Evangelopoulos, Klea Katsouyanni and Heather Walton
Published by Environmental Research Group, King’s College London, November 2019
Breathing polluted air can affect children’s physical wellbeing from the womb and lead to a lifetime of symptoms of ill health in some people. Researchers from King’s College London wanted to examine the impact of air pollution on a whole range of health issues. While research typically concentrates on the number of early deaths attributed to pollution, they felt the general public would pay more attention to findings about the impact of pollution on specific health problems.
The research team analysed 13 health outcomes in children and adults living in high pollution areas and compared them with the general population in nine cities in the UK and four in Poland. They pooled data from previous studies and analysed air pollution measurements from roadside monitoring stations. Not all data was available for all cities.
Previous research has shown living within 50 metres of a major road is associated with stunted lung growth in children. The researchers found the average lung growth of children between the ages of 11 and 15 who lived near a busy road was likely to be stunted by 14.1 per cent in Oxford, 12.5 per cent in London, 7.7 per cent in Birmingham, 5.3 per cent in Bristol, 4.6 per cent in Liverpool, 3.8 per cent in Southampton and 2.8 per cent in Nottingham.
It has been shown that living near a busy road can trigger symptoms of bronchitis among children with asthma. The research team found children with asthma that live near busy roads in Birmingham were subject to a 6.7 per cent greater chance of developing bronchitis symptoms like coughs and phlegm. In Bristol this was 4.5 per cent, in Liverpool 3.8 per cent, Nottingham 2.3 per cent, Oxford 13.3 per cent, and Southampton 3.1 per cent.
The analysis showed if pollution was reduced by one fifth, there would be 3,865 fewer cases of children with bronchitis symptoms every year in London, 328 in Birmingham, 134 in Nottingham, 94 in Bristol, 85 in Liverpool, 85 in Manchester, 69 in Southampton, and 38 in Oxford.
The research found when pollution was higher than normal children ran a greater risk of being hospitalised for pneumonia. For example, the risk of emergency hospitalisations for pneumonia in children in Birmingham was 2.5 per cent higher on high air pollution days than on lower air pollution days. In Bristol and Liverpool the risk was 2.2 per cent higher, in Manchester 2.3 per cent higher, in Nottingham 2.4 per cent higher, and in Southampton two per cent higher. In the Polish cities children were between 5.4 and 5.8 per cent more likely to be hospitalised for pneumonia on high pollution days.
Children were also more likely to be admitted to hospital with asthma on high pollution days. In Birmingham children were 4.1 per cent more likely to be hospitalised, in Bristol 4.4 per cent, in Derby 6.2 per cent, in Manchester 4.4 per cent, in Nottingham 5.1 per cent, in Oxford 3.5 per cent and in Southampton 4.7 per cent. In the Polish cities children were between 5.4 and 5.6 per cent more likely to be hospitalised for asthma on high pollution days.
Other studies have found mothers from places with higher nitrogen dioxide levels have a higher risk of giving birth to underweight babies. The report found that in London air pollution may contribute to a 0.4 per cent greater risk of babies being born underweight if mothers live beside a polluted road compared with living on a quieter street. In Oxford the risk was also 0.4 per cent greater, in Birmingham and Bristol the risk was 0.2 per cent greater, and in Liverpool, Southampton and Derby 0.1 per cent.
IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE
The report authors have created a set of health statements summarising their findings, which they hope will be useful in educating the public about the potential risks from exposure to air pollutants. They are also calling for pollution to be reduced through measures such as the promotion of walking and cycling, infrastructure improvements, wider use of electric vehicles, including for public transport, and better traffic planning and management.
- The Breathe London Wearables Study: Engaging Primary School Children to Monitor Air Pollution in London, Diana Varaden, Einar Leidland and Ben Barratt, King’s College London Environmental Research Group for the Greater London Authority, October 2019
- Outdoor Air Pollution and the Burden of Childhood Asthma Across Europe, Haneen Khreis and others, European Respiratory Journal, October 2019
- Air Pollution and Child Health: Prescribing Clean Air, World Health Organisation, October 2018