Children under 15 at serious risk from polluted air: WHO

Children under 15 at serious risk from polluted air: WHO


  1. WHO released a new report that puts into numbers the devastating impact that air pollution is having on the global population’s health.

Important Facts:

2. The report named  “Air pollution and child health” is being launched on the eve of WHO’s first ever Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health.

3. About  Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health:

  • It provides the opportunity for world leaders; ministers of health, energy, and environment; mayors; heads of intergovernmental organizations; scientists and others to commit to act against air pollution threat, which shortens the lives of around 7 million people each year.

4. About study:

  • WHO’s study, which examined the health toll on children breathing health-hazardous levels of both outdoor and household air pollution, focused on dangerous particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5).
  • These include toxins like sulfate and black carbon, which pose the greatest health risks since they can penetrate deep into the lungs or cardiovascular system.

5. Key findings:

  • Globally, 93% of the world’s children under 15 years of age are exposed to ambient fine particulate matter (PM2.5) levels above WHO air quality guidelines, which include the 630 million of children under 5 years of age, and 1.8 billion of children under 15 years.
  • In low- and middle-income countries around the world, 98% of all children under 5 are exposed to PM2.5 levels above WHO air quality guidelines.
  • In comparison, in high-income countries, 52% of children under 5 are exposed to levels above WHO air quality guidelines.
  • More than 40% of the world’s population – which includes for 1 billion children under 15  is exposed to high levels of household air pollution from mainly cooking with polluting technologies and fuels.
  • About 6 lakh deaths in children under 15 years of age were attributed to the joint effects of ambient and household air pollution in 2016.
  • Together, 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.
  • Air pollution is one of the leading threats to child health, accounting for almost 1 in 10 deaths in children under five years of age.
  • When pregnant women are exposed to polluted air, they are more likely to give birth prematurely, and have small, low birth-weight children.

6. Impacts:

  • Air pollution impacts neurodevelopment and cognitive ability and can trigger asthma, and childhood cancer.
  • Children exposed to high levels of air pollution may be at greater risk for chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease later in life.

7. Reasons for child vulnerability to air pollution:

  • Children breathe more rapidly than adults and so absorb more pollutants, at a time when their brains and bodies are still developing.
  • They also live closer to the ground, where some pollutants reach peak concentrations.
  • The newborns and small children are often at home. If the family is burning fuels like wood and kerosene for cooking, heating and lighting, they would be exposed to higher levels of pollution.

8. WHO steps to tackle rising pollution:

  • “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.
  • Breathe Life air pollution campaign: BreatheLife is a partnership of WHO, UN Environment and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-lived Climate Pollutants that aims to increase awareness and action on air pollution by governments and individuals.
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