Air pollution is a significant health threat to children with both short- and long-term health effects, says ATHLETE coordinating partner ISGlobal in a new fact sheet summarizing the main scientific evidence on air quality and children’s health.

Air pollution is the most significant environmental health risk in Europe with around 300,000 premature deaths per year. ISGlobal’s fact sheet states that approximately 33% of European childhood asthma cases can be attributed to air pollution and that if the minimum levels of certain air pollutants were met, Europe could prevent more than 200,000 new cases of childhood asthma each year.

Children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable and the health impacts can continue throughout their lives. Higher air pollution can also lead to inequalities early in life and a competitive disadvantage because it affects learning and performance. As pointed out by ISGlobal, the negative health impacts from poor air quality are not limited to the respiratory system: exposure to polluted air can also result in cardiovascular diseases as well as impacts on the weight, brain function and development of children.

The fact sheet was published ahead of the European Parliament’s plenary vote on the revision of the EU’s Ambient Air Quality Directive that took place 13 September 2023, where politicians voted in favour of stronger EU air quality standards that are aligned with the most recent World Health Organization’s guidelines. As a next step, the Parliament will now start negotiations with the Council of the European Union and the European Commission on the final shape of the law.

Air pollution is one type of many environmental exposures the ATHLETE project researches to get a holistic understanding of how different forms of pollution people are exposed to on a daily basis can impact human health from pregnancy up to adolescence. This approach to studying environmental pollution, called the Human Exposome, is groundbreaking because it allows researchers to simultaneously explore multiple exposures and their health outcomes. As a result, ATHLETE’s research has the potential to answer key questions about the development of disease and how European policy makers can take preventative action against harmful pollution.

Click here to read the full fact sheet from ISGlobal.