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Children exposed to ambient air pollution show stunted airway growth, warns international respiratory group including GRIAC researchers

02 October 2018

​The Forum of International Respiratory Societies (FIRS) warns that air pollution exposure may stunt lung function growth of children into adolescence.

An article published by researchers of Utrecht University in collaboration  with GRIAC in the European Respiratory Journal found that Dutch children, exposed to air near their homes containing high concentrations of nitrogen dioxide, soot, and particulate matter from preschool age onwards, had lower airway growth at 16 years of age. Boys normally have narrower airways than girls during this phase of development, and they may be particularly susceptible to stunted airway growth from air pollution.

This is one of the few studies to examine the impact of air pollution exposure during critical time windows of airway growth over the human lifespan. Stunted airway growth in children is a matter of great concern for parents and societies since it results in low peak lung function in adulthood which is a very important risk factor for developing emphysema later in life.The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 92 percent of the world’s population live in areas with inadequate outdoor air quality, and this pollution contributes to 1 out of every 8 deaths. Although air pollution affects high income countries, the rapid economic growth in low income countries has left air quality in many Asian and African cities notoriously poor.

The lessons learnt from this and other studies warrant immediate steps to protect the health of our children, starting from conception onwards. Use of cleaner fuels such as renewable sources and reducing industrial pollutants may help improve air quality. It is hoped that investigating the effects of air pollution will help keep the conversation going among policy makers.

​[1] Milanzi EB, Koppelman GH, Smit HA, et al. Air pollution exposure and lung function until age 16: the PIAMA birth cohort study. Eur Respir J 2018; in press.​

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