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Cooking with wood or coal increases risk of respiratory disease

Over 1 billion people in the world still don’t have access to electricity and nearly 3 billion people cook with wood or coal, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The areas where people are without electricity or clean cooking fuels are typically concentrated to rural regions of low and middle-income countries.

In India, over 20 percent of the population is without electricity, and in China, one-third of the population depends on wood or other solid fuels for cooking.

The problem with solid fuels is that it emits high levels of harsh pollutants, and the WHO recently found that around four million people die every year from exposure to household air pollution from indoor cooking.

Studies have shown that household air pollution increases the risk of heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

A new study found that in China, burning wood or coal for cooking increased the risk of death or hospitalization from respiratory diseases like COPD.

The study was conducted by researchers from Oxford University and the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

The researchers reviewed 280,000 health records of adults age 30 to 79 from the China Kadoorie Biobank.

The health records came from participants located in ten areas of China who had never smoked and were not diagnosed with any respiratory diseases when they enrolled in the Biobank study.

For nine years, the participants’ health was monitored and at the end of the study, 19,823 of the participants were either hospitalized or died from a major respiratory disease.

10,553 of the hospitalizations and deaths were linked to asthma or COPD and 7,324 were due to lower respiratory infections such as pneumonia.

“While many previous studies have suggested a link between solid fuel use and COPD, most of them focused on changes in lung function, rather than hospital admissions or deaths,” said Ka Hung Chan, the lead author of the study. “In addition, we looked at the associations with other respiratory diseases about which little is known.”

The researchers discovered that long-term exposure to indoor solid fuel pollution correlated with a higher risk of hospitalization or death, and people who cooked with solid fuels for more than 40 years were 54 percent more likely to be hospitalized or die from respiratory disease.

The effects of long-term exposure to indoor solid fuels are detrimental to a person’s health but switching to cleaner fuels can drastically reduce the risks of respiratory disease.

“Although we cannot infer a causal relationship from these observational findings, our findings make a compelling case to speed up the global implementation of universal access to affordable clean energy, one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals,” said Zhengming Chen, senior author of the study.

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

Image Credit: ATS

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