Air pollution caused 4 per cent of babies’ deaths in the UK last year, according to the first global study to look at the impact of poor air quality on newborns.
Outdoor and household air pollution contributed to the deaths of nearly 500,000 infants in their first month of life worldwide in 2019, according to the State of Global Air 2020 report from the Health Effects Institute.
Most of those deaths were the result of low birth weight and preterm birth, which a growing body of scientific evidence has linked to air pollution exposure during pregnancy.
That included 81 neonatal deaths in the UK, where 54 per cent of the population live in areas with pollution above World Health Organisation guidelines of fine particulate matter PM2.5.
The main causes of air pollution in the UK are road traffic and wood-burning stoves.
Nearly two-thirds of babies’ deaths worldwide were linked to use of solid fuels such as charcoal, wood, and animal dung for cooking.
“An infant’s health is critical to the future of every society, and this newest evidence suggests an especially high risk for infants born in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa,” said Dan Greenbaum, President of HEI.
“Although there has been slow and steady reduction in household reliance on poor-quality fuels, the air pollution from these fuels continues to be a key factor in the deaths of these youngest infants,” he added.
Air pollution is now the fourth highest cause of death worldwide, ranking just below smoking and poor diet, and the 11th in the UK.
It came as another report found that air pollution costs UK city dwellers nearly £900 a year on average, with Londoners facing the highest cost at £1,138 and Bristolians at £928.
Some 99 per cent of London has air pollution above WHO guidelines.
The report for the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) assessed the monetary value of premature death, medical treatment, lost working days and other health costs.
In total it said air pollution cost the UK nearly £19 billion a year.
Air pollution contributes to respiratory illnesses such as asthma and is linked to strokes and cancer. Evidence has also linked poor outcomes for Covid-19 patients to high levels of air pollution.
The HEI study was based on data from the recent Global Burden of Disease study published in medical journal The Lancet.
“The interaction of COVID-19 with the continued global rise in chronic illness and related risk factors, including obesity, high blood sugar, and outdoor air pollution, over the past 30 years has created a perfect storm, fueling COVID-19 deaths,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, USA, who led the GBD research.
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