Air pollution restricting children's lung development

Children exposed to diesel-dominated air pollution in London are showing poor lung capacity, putting them at risk of lifelong breathing disorders.

This is according to a study led by King's College London, Queen Mary University of London, and the University of Edinburgh, which was part-funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust.

air pollutionThe research, published in the journal Lancet Public Health, shows that whilst traffic pollution control measures have improved air quality in London, they still need significant strengthening to protect children’s health.

2,164 children aged 8-9 were enrolled into the study from 28 primary schools in the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Greenwich and the City of London, all areas which fail to meet current EU nitrogen dioxide limits. The research team monitored children’s health and exposure to air pollutants over five years, covering the period when a Low Emission Zone was introduced across Greater London.

The team found that despite this policy children exposed to air pollution showed significantly smaller lung volume and there were no improvements to rates of asthma over the same period.

The researchers say that emission controls need to be tightened further and clinicians should consider advising parents of children with significant lung disease to avoid living in high pollution areas, or to limit their exposures.

Dr Ian Mudway from King’s College London said:

There is an urgent need to improve our air quality, especially within our congested cities. Policies such as the Low Emission Zone strive to do this, but their effectiveness needs careful and objective evaluation, not only in terms of whether they improve air quality, but more importantly, whether they deliver better health. As the evidence base grows demonstrating that air pollution impacts on the health of children born and growing up in our cities, so the justification for decisive action increases.

The study is a collaboration across the Medical Research Council Asthma UK Centre in Allergic Mechanisms of Asthma and the Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research, and was funded by NHS Hackney, the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust and King's College London with donations from Him Lee and the Felicity Wilde Charitable Trust.

Read the full findings and recommendations on the King’s College London website.