Over 90% of the world’s children under the age of 15 breathe air that is so badly polluted their health and development is put at serious risk, according to a new report released by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The new report estimates that in 2016, 600,000 children died from acute lower respiratory infections caused by polluted air.
“Polluted air is poisoning millions of children and ruining their lives,” says Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “This is inexcusable. Every child should be able to breathe clean air so they can grow and fulfil their full potential.”
It reveals that when pregnant women are exposed to polluted air, they are more likely to give birth prematurely, and have small, low birth-weight children. Air pollution also impacts neurodevelopment and cognitive ability and can trigger asthma, and childhood cancer. Children who have been exposed to high levels of air pollution may be at greater risk for chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease later in life.
“Air Pollution is stunting our children’s brains, affecting their health in more ways than we suspected. But there are many straight-forward ways to reduce emissions of dangerous pollutants,” says Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health at WHO.
“WHO is supporting implementation of health-wise policy measures like accelerating the switch to clean cooking and heating fuels and technologies, promoting the use of cleaner transport, energy-efficient housing and urban planning. We are preparing the ground for low emission power generation, cleaner, safer industrial technologies and better municipal waste management, ” she added.
Air pollution affects neurodevelopment, leading to lower cognitive test outcomes, negatively affecting mental and motor development.
Air pollution is damaging children’s lung function, even at lower levels of exposures
Globally, 93% of the world’s children under 15 years of age are exposed to ambient fine particulate matter (PM2.5) levels above WHO air quality guidelines, which include the 630 million of children under 5 years of age, and 1.8 billion of children under 15 years
In low- and middle-income countries around the world, 98% of all children under 5 are exposed to PM2.5 levels above WHO air quality guidelines. In comparison, in high-income countries, 52% of children under 5 are exposed to levels above WHO air quality guidelines.
More than 40% of the world’s population – which includes 1 billion children under 15 - is exposed to high levels of household air pollution from mainly cooking with polluting technologies and fuels.
About 600’000 deaths in children under 15 years of age were attributed to the joint effects of ambient and household air pollution in 2016.
Together, household air pollution from cooking and ambient (outside) air pollution cause more than 50% of acute lower respiratory infections in children under 5 years of age in low- and middle-income countries.
Air pollution is one of the leading threats to child health, accounting for almost 1 in 10 deaths in children under five years of age.