The detrimental impact of air pollution on the most vulnerable in society has been exposed in two recent studies from King’s and Imperial College London.
The first study found that exposure to London air pollution during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of babies being born underweight.
Increases in traffic-related air pollutants were associated with a 2% to 6% increased chance of being born underweight, and a 1% to 3% increased chance of being smaller than average at particular milestone stages in pregnancy.
Researchers say that these findings are applicable to other UK and European cities and call for policies to improve air quality in urban areas. The authors estimate that by reducing London’s annual average PM2.5 (fine particulate matter) concentration by 10%, approximately 90 babies each year (3%) would be prevented from being born underweight.
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A further study found that short term exposure to air pollution in built up areas can counter the beneficial health effects of exercise in over 60s.
Over 100 participants walked for two hours in two London settings at midday –a quiet part of Hyde Park and a busy section of Oxford Street, which has regularly breached air quality limits. As expected, noise and pollution levels were significantly higher on Oxford Street compared to Hyde Park. Participants were either healthy, had stable chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or stable heart disease.
Analysis revealed that all participants benefited from a stroll in the park, with lung capacity improving. By comparison, a walk on Oxford Street only led to a small increase in lung capacity.
Authors say that the effects could potentially apply to other age groups as well, highlighting the need for stricter air quality limits and greater access to green spaces.
These new findings are important because they demonstrate the harmful effects of diesel pollution in real people as they walk along a London shopping street. You cannot get more direct evidence of harm than this and it confirms the need to clean up our cities and give the streets back to pedestrians and cyclists. – Professor Frank Kelly, King’s Environmental Research Group.
Find out more about air quality research at King’s here.