WHO calls for action to protect children from air pollution

Figures published by the World Health Organization today (29 October) suggest that around 93% of children aged under 15 are breathing air that is potentially dangerous to their health.

These numbers would suggest that as many as 1.8 billion children across the globe are regularly exposed to levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) s above the WHO’s air quality guideline of an average of 10μg/m3, which is thought to be damaging to human health.

Children are ‘disproportionately’ at risk from air pollution at the roadside, research suggests

According to WHO, in low-and middle-income countries around the world, 98% of all children under five are exposed to PM2.5 levels above WHO air quality guidelines, whilst in comparison, in high-income countries, 52% of children under five are exposed to levels above WHO air quality guidelines.

Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of air pollution is that they breathe more rapidly than adults and so absorb more pollutants, the organization claimed.

The WHO has suggested that all countries across the globe should work towards meeting the 10μg/m3 average limit for exposure to PM2.5.

In the UK, activists have called for the government to adopt this limit into law, which would significantly strengthen existing commitments to tackling air quality.


This includes the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change (UKHACC), which today called for tougher standards to protect public health (see story).

Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health at WHO, said: “Air Pollution is stunting our children’s brains, affecting their health in more ways than we suspected. But there are many straight-forward ways to reduce emissions of dangerous pollutants.

“WHO is supporting implementation of health-wise policy measures like accelerating the switch to clean cooking and heating fuels and technologies, promoting the use of cleaner transport, energy-efficient housing and urban planning. We are preparing the ground for low emission power generation, cleaner, safer industrial technologies and better municipal waste management.”

Our figures set out by the WHO today include that around 600’000 deaths in children under 15 years of age were attributed to the joint effects of ambient and household air pollution in 2016.

Household air pollution from cooking and ambient (outside) air pollution cause more than 50% of acute lower respiratory infections in children under 5 years of age in low- and middle-income countries.


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