Childhood asthma inequality reinforces disproportionate air pollution impact

A new London-focused study has laid bare the real impact of ambient air pollution on disadvantaged and marginalised communities. 

Half of all children and young people admitted to hospital between 2021 and 2022 were from minority ethnic backgrounds, compared with 28% whose heritage is white British. 

More than 3,600 children were hospitalised over the course of last year in the UK capital alone, a sharp rise of 64% compared with the previous 12 months – although this is largely due to lower than normal pollution levels stemming from the outbreak of Covid-19 and its associated lockdowns. In June 2022, the most recent month for which data is available, asthma-related hospitalisations in the city among young people and children numbers 229.

The figures reinforce a number of studies that point to disadvantaged, minority ethnic and marginalised communities bearing the brunt of dirty air in cities across the world. A recent analysis in London showed that nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrations were between 16 and 27% higher in Black, Asian and minority ethnic areas of the city. 

Conversely, City Hall commissioned-research also showed that despite being the worst impacted, many of the poorest communities had the lowest rate of car ownership, meaning people living in these neighbourhoods are paying with their health for activity on the part of wealthier residents.

‘My son is one of the thousands upon thousands of London kids that have asthma. One in ten kids in this city have asthma, that is a shameful number of children whose health is so badly impacted by filthy air with every breath that they take,’ said Ruth Harris, of the campaign organisation Mums For Lungs. ‘This summer dirty air landed my little boy in hospital again for the 13th time, it’s hard to describe how scary it is to see a child struggling for every breath.  Making the air safe to breathe has got to be an urgent priority.”

‘It’s unacceptable that any children are suffering health problems due to London’s toxic air, but that some children are being vastly worse affected than others is even more of an injustice,’ added Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. ‘I am determined to clean up London’s filthy air, to protect the health of every child in London but also to ensure the future of their city in tackling the effects of climate change. This is why I consulted on expanding the Ultra Low Emission Zone. This would mean five million more people breathing cleaner air, and would help to build a better, greener, fairer London for everyone.’

This latest study reinforces previous work by organisations including Friends of the Earth and The Runnymede Trust, both of which identified strong links between air pollution ill-health and ethnicity and poverty. 

Image: Sahej Brar


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