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Air pollution causes 33 percent of new asthma cases among European children

New research from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) has revealed that air pollution in Europe is responsible for 33 percent of all new asthma cases among children each year. The team reported that nearly 200,000 of these cases could be prevented by lowering levels of harmful particle pollution. 

Asthma is the most common chronic childhood disease, and is steadily on the rise. By analyzing census population data and information from the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study, the experts determined that more than 63.4 million children across 18 European countries suffer from asthma. 

The team used two different scenarios to estimate how many of these asthma cases are linked to air pollution. The first framework referenced the maximum air pollution levels recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) air quality guidelines. The second framework reviewed the lowest air pollution levels recorded among 41 previous studies.

Based on the first scenario, the researchers found that 66,600 childhood asthma cases could be prevented every year if European countries complied with the WHO air quality guidelines for PM2.5. The team also determined that 2,400 cases could be prevented if these nations complied with the air quality guidelines for NO2.

“The analysis showed that, while meeting the WHO recommendations for PM2.5 would imply a significant reduction in the percentage of annual childhood asthma cases, that is not the case with NO2, where 0.4% of the cases would be prevented,” said study co-author David Rojas-Rueda. 

“Therefore, our estimations show that the current NO2 WHO air quality guideline value seems to provide much less protection than the PM2.5 guideline. We suggest that these values require update and lowering to be better suited in protecting children’s health.”

In the second scenario, the researchers discovered that more than 190,000 annual cases of asthma could be prevented among European children if PM2.5 was reduced to the lowest levels documented by previous studies. In addition, the lowest levels of NO2 could prevent 135,000 cases, while the lowest levels of black carbon could prevent 89,000 cases.

“Only in the past two years, several analyses on air pollution and onset of childhood asthma have emerged, strengthening the case from different research teams that air pollution is contributing substantially to the burden of paediatric asthma,” said study leader author Haneen Khreis.

“Largely, these impacts are preventable and there are numerous policy measures which can reduce the ambient levels of, and children’s exposure to, outdoor air pollution. We can and should do something about it.”

The study is published in the European Respiratory Journal.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

Image Credit: Shutterstock/Song_about_summer

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