Pediatric asthma on the rise due to traffic pollution

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Pediatric asthma on the rise due to traffic pollution

A George Washington University study linked the rise in cases of pediatric asthma with traffic pollution around the world. They estimate that nearly 2 million newly diagnosed cases of pediatric asthma can be traced back to air pollution. Smog poses a problem, especially for the world’s big cities like Los Angeles and Mumbai.

Study estimates large increase in pediatric asthma due to traffic pollution

The study marks the first to estimate the burden of pediatric asthma cases resulting from traffic pollution in more than 13,000 cities.

“Our study found that nitrogen dioxide puts children at risk of developing asthma, and the problem is especially acute in urban areas,” said Susan Anenberg, co-senior author of the paper and professor of environmental and occupational health at the George Washington University. “The findings suggest that clean air should be a critical part of strategies to keep children healthy.”

Anenberg and his team wanted to measure soil concentrations of nitrogen dioxide, or NO2, in particular. This pollutant comes from exhaust fumes from vehicles, power plants, and industrial sites.

They also tracked new cases of pediatric asthma in children from 2000 to 2019.

Findings of the study that determined an increase in asthma in children

Asthma is a long-term disease that causes narrowing and inflammation of the airways. Asthma affects nearly 6.1 million children under the age of 18 in the United States alone.

The research team highlighted these important study findings:

Two-thirds occurred in cities among the estimated 1.85 million new NO2-related pediatric asthma cases worldwide in 2019.

However, the number of NO2-related pediatric asthma cases in cities recently decreased. This reduction was likely due to more stringent airline regulations in higher income countries, such as the US.

Air quality also improved in Europe. Unfortunately, pollution is on the rise in low-income countries, such as those in South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East. NO2 pollution, in particular, is a growing problem in these areas.

Cases of pediatric asthma attributed to NO2 pollution endanger the public health of citizens in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

An earlier study by GW researchers found that NO2 contributed to about 13% of pediatric asthma cases globally.

About 50% of these cases occurred in the 250 most populous cities in the world. People who live near congested highways and industrial sites run the increased risk of developing asthma.

Overall, the number of NO2-associated pediatric asthma cases fell from 20% in 2000 to 16% in 2019. This decline means that initiatives to clean the air in Europe and the US have paid off, especially for children with asthma.

Of course, there is more work ahead for both higher-income and developing countries. Low-income areas often have difficulty reducing emissions from hazardous vehicles and other sources of NO2 due to technological and cost limitations.

Urban air pollution is a growing problem around the world

In another study by Veronica Southerland at GW, Anenberg and colleagues found that urban air pollution caused an excess of 1.8 million deaths in 2019. This study also found that 86% of adults and children living in Cities around the world are exposed to dangerous levels of fine particles. In fact, contaminant levels often exceed World Health Organization recommendations.

Their document states: “Despite progress in reducing exposure in some countries, the global health burden of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in the environment is increasing annually.

Long-term exposure to PM2.5 is associated with premature mortality from various diseases, including cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, lung cancer, and lower respiratory tract infections.

PM2.5 is now the leading environmental contributor to the global burden of disease, rising from the fifth leading contributor among environmental risk factors in 1990, in part driven by declines in household air and water pollution and unsafe sanitation.

“Reducing fossil fuel-powered transportation can help children and adults breathe easier and can pay big dividends for health, as fewer cases of pediatric asthma and excess deaths,” Anenberg said. “At the same time, it would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions, leading to a healthier climate.”

Six tips to protect yourself from city air pollution

If you live in a big city, it’s crucial to reduce your exposure to pollution as much as possible. The American Lung Association offers the following guidelines to reduce pediatric asthma and other lung diseases:

1. Check local forecasts for daily air pollution levels. This data will tell you if it is not safe to go out or limit your exposure.

2. Clean your house regularly to reduce indoor air pollution. Avoid wearing shoes inside, as they can bring in contaminants from outside. Also, do not allow smoking indoors and light candles sparingly.

3. Reduce energy use in your home. All of our modern appliances and conveniences run on electricity, which creates air pollution. Consider green energy sources like solar to power your home.

4. Don’t exercise outdoors when air pollution is high. Also, if you exercise outdoors, be sure to avoid high-traffic areas. Being around tons of cars will increase your exposure to pollutants.

5. Consider wearing a mask while outdoors if you live in a megacity or urban area. It may be uncomfortable, but it will give you some protection from heavy pollution and smog.

6. Walk or bike instead of taking a car. Globally, transportation accounts for around 15-20% of greenhouse gas emissions each year. If you have to use a vehicle, opt for a bus or a rideshare with friends. Reducing the number of cars on the road would make a considerable dent in urban air pollution.

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