World’s poorest hit hardest by air pollution
Air pollution is shortening the lives of the world’s poorest at a far greater rate than it is in more affluent regions, scientists have warned.
And because life expectancy is already lower in poorer countries, this represents a “further widening of the gaps between more- and less-developed regions in terms of air pollution’s overall health burden”.
The global study found that exposure to dangerous ambient PM2.5 particles cuts life spans by 19 months in South Asia, but by just four and a half months in high-income parts of North America.
Household air pollution is estimated to shorten lives by approximately nine months worldwide, rising to 16 months in sub-Saharan Africa where more than 80% of people cook with solid fuels.
The Health Effects Institute (HEI), which carried out the research, said air pollution as a whole now cuts life expectancy by 20 months, slightly less than the 22 months caused by tobacco, but almost three times more than the seven months attributed to dirty water.
“In 2017, air pollution ranked fifth among all mortality risk factors globally, accounting for nearly five million early deaths, and 147 million years of healthy life lost,” the researchers added.
Despite this, it was found that major regulatory reforms in China are driving substantial reductions in PM2.5 exposure, while the number of households cooking with solid fuel is declining in many parts of the world.
And if air pollution was to fall within World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, the researchers estimate that countries like Bangladesh could see life expectancy increase by nearly 1.3 years.
However, even with improvements in air quality, the burden of disease attributable to air pollution is continuing to rise as populations grow and age.
Identifying trends in air pollution, population structure, underlying disease and economic factors would be “critical” to understanding the health burden and loss of life expectancy in each country.
“The growing burden of disease from air pollution is among the major challenges facing national governments and public health officials, with far-reaching implications for national economies and human wellbeing,” the HEI said.
‘Better understanding the sources of air pollution and key contributors to its health burden is a critical next step for implementing effective air pollution control policies.”
Image credit | iStock
Chris Seekings is a reporter for TRANSFORM