Air pollution harms children's health

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Exhaust gases and smog are a significant health risk for children

Air pollution has a significant impact on the birth weight of children. In addition, "toddlers who are exposed to high levels of ozone are more likely to suffer from bronchitis or respiratory diseases," reports family and education economist C. Katharina Spieß, referring to data from the Berlin Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) and the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) Specialist magazine "Journal of Health Economics".

The SOEP of the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) has been collecting a wide range of data on social development for years, including information on the birth weight of newborns. Overall, according to the researcher, data from around 2,000 children from 2002 to 2007 flowed into the current study. This information was compared with the measurements of the Federal Environment Agency on the air pollution with fine dust, carbon monoxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. C. Katharina Spieß and Katja Coenus found a clear connection between air pollution and the birth weight of the children. The researchers also emphasized that the risk of bronchitis and other respiratory diseases is significantly influenced by air quality.

Lower birth weight with high carbon monoxide concentration According to the scientists, the current study shows that in regions with particularly high carbon monoxide (CO) values, children have a significantly lower birth weight than in less stressed regions. On average, the babies weighed 289 grams less at high carbon monoxide concentrations, emphasized C. Katharina Spieß. This is "a clear indication of how much air pollution can harm children in the womb," the family and education economist continues. As the reason for the lower birth weight, the expert cited the poorer supply of oxygen to babies with increased levels of carbon monoxide in the air. Since the carbon monoxide concentration is significantly increased, especially in high-traffic regions, the birth weight of the children is particularly low here, the researcher explained.

Risk of respiratory illnesses increases with air pollution According to family and education economist C. Katharina Spieß, poor air quality not only means a lower birth weight of newborns, but also the risk of bronchitis and other respiratory diseases. Here the connection should be established primarily with increased ozone values. The health of two to three-year-old children in areas affected by so-called summer smog is particularly threatened. Summer smog occurs especially in sunny weather in high-traffic regions, where the term describes the pollution of the air layers near the ground by an increased ozone concentration. The small children breathe significantly more oxygen in the affected regions than adults, but their immune system is not yet fully developed, according to the scientists, explaining the measurably increased risk of bronchitis and other respiratory diseases.

Protecting urban populations from negative health effects Overall, the results of the Berlin researchers are quite worrying and suggest that children should preferably choose a place to live in rural regions with the highest possible air quality. However, this possibility is far from being available for all affected families and so those responsible in politics urgently have to ask how air quality can be improved sustainably in the big cities. Even before the current study, other studies clearly showed the negative health effects of air pollution. The establishment of so-called environmental zones in the inner city area, which is still controversial, seems to be a step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough to protect all city dwellers from the negative effects of traffic. New models that help to significantly reduce car traffic are in demand. An expansion of the use of local public transport (public transport) also seems imperative in terms of the health of city dwellers. (fp)

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Picture: Günter Havlena /

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