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Chinese children face obesity and respiration disease risks from air pollution

Concern is growing in China over two conflicting public health threats that are affecting children. The issue of dangerous air pollution levels alongside the increasingly sedentary lifestyle of Chinese children have caused scientists to worry about the health of the country’s youth.

Brad Cardinal, kinesiology professor of the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University, wonders how we can “balance the virtues of physical activity with the hazards of air pollution.” In a new commentary published this month in the Journal of Pediatrics, Cardinal suggests that policy makers and health workers must find ways for Chinese children to increase their physical activity while avoiding the health risks associated with exposure to air pollution.

Air pollution is linked to asthma, chronic coughing, and a host of other respiratory problems in children, all of which are exacerbated by exercise. Scientists are concerned that the low air quality in China will force the nation’s children to stay indoors in order to avoid exposure to the pollution.

The negative health effects of air pollution contributed to 1.2 million deaths in 2010. Children are also more susceptible to the health impacts of air pollution, as they tend to have higher rates of respiration and take shallower breaths.

Due to these risks, very few Chinese children participate in moderate or vigorous physical activity outside their schools. In fact, the number of overweight and obese children in the country has more than doubled in the last 25 years.

Both Cardinal and his co-author, Qi Si of Zhejiang University in China, believe that the issues of pollution and childhood obesity should be addressed together. In their commentary, they recommend these four steps they believe Chinese health officials and legislators should take:

1) Increase awareness among parents, children, health workers, educators, and policymakers about the causes of air pollution and its impacts on children and adolescents, as well as potential harm when coupled with lack of physical activity.

2) Place air quality systems at school sites so that pollution can be measured when and where children are engaging in physical activity.

3) Adjust the intensity of outdoor physical activity during the school day on the basis of air pollution monitoring results. Higher pollution stipulates less outdoor physical activity, while lower pollution means physical activity can be increased.

4) Educate children about exercising in polluted environments. This includes instruction on when to stop activity if they notice problems such as coughing, chest tightness, or wheezing.

For many of today’s children, schools are the center point for much of their physical activity. If steps are taken within the Chinese school system to educate children and parents on these two issues, it’s likely that progress can be made in combating this problem. “The goal is to get people thinking about these complex problems and real-world solutions,” Cardinal said. “The hope is that someone will innovate appropriate solutions for addressing both of these problems.”

Source: Oregon State University  

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