Ambient and indoor air pollution limits young people’s lung function

More evidence has emerged showing poor air quality directly leads to significant health problems, with worse effects among lower age groups. 

A new study focused on South India, led by researchers at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), has identified a link between air pollution and poor lung function in young adults who had recently attained maximum lung function. 

Published in Environment International, results point to worse lung performance with higher ambient and household air pollution. Although this sounds logical, up until recently studies of this kind have been limited, with scarce data on the health effects of ambient air pollution in lower-middle-income countries, specifically on young adults whose respiratory growth is peaking. 

‘There has been a lot of research on air pollution and its effects on the lung function of children. But this is one of the first studies looking at the population group of young adults in a low- and middle-income country setting,’ said Otavio Ranzani, ISGlobal researcher and first author of the study. 

Work involved collecting data on 1,044 people aged 20-26 years in 28 villages across the peri-urban area of Hyperbad. Lung function was measured by the researchers, with factors including sex, health behaviours, and socioeconomic background were taken into consideration, with the analysis adjusted to reflect this. Overall, household air pollution – measured in terms of biomass fuel use – was consistently found to lead to reduced lung function.

Those taking part were particularly vulnerable when unvented biomass stoves were used at home, with reductions in lung capacity rising from an average across participants of 142ml to 211ml. This is particularly worrying as such equipment is currently used by an estimated 2.6bn people worldwide. Ambient particulate matter, PM2.5, was also linked to lower lung function, although the results were less conclusive. 

 ‘This cross-sectional study opens the doors for further longitudinal research on the effect of air pollution on lung development, especially in low- and middle-income country settings where individuals are commonly exposed to both high levels of ambient and household air pollution,’ said Cathryn Tonne, ISGlobal researcher and senior author of the study.

India currently registers more deaths from air pollution than any other country, and a recent heatwave – lasting several months – has exacerbated the situation with a dramatic increase in wildfires across many states. 





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