Polluted Air Kills 600,000 Kids a Year: WHO Report

Ed Miliband with his wife Justine Thornton and their children Daniel and Samuel in 2015

Ed Miliband with his wife Justine Thornton and their children Daniel and Samuel in 2015

In 2016, 600,000 children were estimated to have died from acute lower respiratory infections caused by polluted air.

"This is inexcusable. Every child should be able to breathe clean air so they can grow and fulfil their full potential" said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a statement.

According to World Health Organization data, more than nine out of 10 people on the planet breath dangerously toxic air, causing some seven million premature deaths each year.

Across both these age groups, over 1 lakh children died in India due to both ambient and household pollution of particulate matter 2.5 in 2016.

These include toxins like sulfate and black carbon, which pose the greatest health risks since they can penetrate deep into the lungs or cardiovascular system. While in low and middle income countries, 98% of children under five are said to be exposed to PM 2.5, in high income countries, this number is nearly half at 52%.

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There was clear, consistent evidence of an association between ambient air pollution and otitis media, or ear infections, the study said, as well as some evidence of it causing obesity and insulin resistance in children. Pregnant women, exposed to polluted air, are more likely to give birth prematurely, and have small, low birth-weight children, the report says.

One reason why children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of air pollution is that they breathe more rapidly than adults and so absorb more pollutants. Some of the pollutants reach peak concentrations lower to the ground, where children are absorbing them.

The report, titled "Air Pollution and Child Health - Prescribing clean air", seeks to caution against the rising levels of pollution causing growing burden of diseases as well as deaths.

"Imagine that our children will have less cognitive development and therefore a lower IQ", said Dr Maria Neira, Director of the Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health at WHO.

"Governments should adopt such measures as reducing the over-dependence on fossil fuels in the global energy mix, investing in improvements in energy efficiency and facilitating the uptake of renewable energy sources".

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