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Air pollution fuels cardiovascular deaths worldwide

In a compelling study led by the Global Alliance against Chronic Respiratory Diseases, researchers have drawn a direct correlation between air pollution and an increased rate of cardiovascular disease-related deaths across the globe. 

This analysis, which includes data from nearly all member states of the World Health Organization (WHO), sheds light on the stark differences in mortality rates due to air pollution between high-income and low-income countries.

Study significance 

“In 2022, noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) killed 41 million people, equivalent to 74% of all deaths globally. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) accounts for most NCD deaths, or 17.9 million people die annually from CVD,” wrote the study authors. 

“Traditional risk factors such as smoking, physical inactivity, the harmful use of alcohol, and unhealthy diet all increase the risk of dying from a CVD. Air pollution, both outdoor or ambient and household, is not included in this risk calculation despite air pollution being a major contributor to the global burden of disease, with an estimated 12% of all attributable deaths in 2019.”

Pervasive impact of air pollution

The study’s findings are a grim reminder of the pervasive impact of air pollution on public health, particularly in relation to ischemic heart disease and stroke – two major types of cardiovascular diseases. 

The analysis revealed that in all 183 countries examined, deaths related to ischemic heart disease attributable to air pollution were more common than stroke-related deaths caused by the same factor. This distinction underscores the varied ways in which air pollution can affect cardiovascular health.

Unequal burden of air pollution 

In 2019, the rate of ischemic heart disease-related deaths linked to outdoor air pollution was significantly higher in low-income countries, with 70 deaths per 100,000 people, compared to 16 per 100,000 in high-income countries. This disparity highlights the unequal burden of air pollution, with low-income countries facing more severe health impacts due to poorer air quality.

Furthermore, the research emphasizes a critical issue facing low-income countries: household air pollution. The use of polluting fuels and stoves for cooking – a common practice in these regions – was identified as a major contributor to the problem, leading to more than double the number of stroke-related deaths compared to outdoor air pollution (39 stroke-related deaths per 100,000 versus 19 per 100,000). 

This aspect of air pollution represents a significant challenge to public health in low-income countries, where access to clean cooking technologies is often limited.

Preventive strategies 

Study co-author Dr. Nikolai Khaltaev emphasized the importance of addressing air pollution as part of a holistic approach to cardiovascular disease prevention. 

“Effective air pollution control along with lifestyle modifications and disease management should be essential components of cardiovascular disease preventive strategies,” said Dr. Khaltaev.

Broader implications 

The study serves as a crucial call to action for policymakers, healthcare providers, and the global community to intensify efforts towards reducing air pollution and its detrimental effects on cardiovascular health. 

The evidence underscores the urgency of implementing effective air pollution control measures, especially in low-income countries where the health impacts are most pronounced. 

“Despite increasing awareness of the impact of air pollution on population health, appreciation of air pollution as a modifiable risk factor is still limited among the health professionals who are traditionally more focused on the classic risk factors,” wrote the researchers.

“It is important to raise awareness about the harmful impact of air pollution on CVD mortality among the general population, health care providers, research community, and politicians.”

The study is published in the journal Chronic Diseases and Translational Medicine.

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