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Report says air pollution is now the 2nd-leading global risk factor for death

Air pollution has moved ahead of tobacco and poor diet as leading risk factors for death worldwide, the report said.
air pollution smog factory
Posted at 3:58 PM, Jun 19, 2024

Air pollution is the second-leading global risk factor for death, according to the newly released State of Global Air report.

Exposure to air pollution was the cause of 8.1 million deaths across the world in 2021, including more than 700,000 deaths of children under 5 years old, the report stated.

This was the first time the Health Effects Institute, a nonprofit research organization, partnered with UNICEF to produce its annual global air report to emphasize the health impact on children. The report was released Wednesday.

The majority of those child deaths were linked to household air pollution from cooking indoors with harmful fuels in Africa and Asia, the organization said.

The impacts of air pollution can start before a child is even born, causing premature birth, low birth weight and asthma.

“Despite progress in maternal and child health, every day almost 2,000 children under five years die because of health impacts linked to air pollution,” said UNICEF deputy executive director Kitty van der Heijden in a statement. “The global urgency is undeniable. It is imperative governments and businesses consider these estimates and locally available data and use it to inform meaningful, child-focused action to reduce air pollution and protect children’s health.”

Related: Global child deaths reach historic low in 2022, UN report says

Data from the report suggests nearly every person on Earth breathes unhealthy levels of air pollution every day, which, besides the risk of death, can lead to debilitating chronic diseases that put a strain on health care systems.

Air pollution has moved ahead of tobacco and poor diet as leading risk factors for death worldwide, the report said.

The most common type of air pollution linked to global deaths comes from breathing in tiny particles that are released into the air from the burning of fossil fuels and biomass. Those tiny particles can remain in the lungs and enter the bloodstream, wreaking havoc on organ systems, the report stated.

Dr. Pallavi Pant, HEI’s head of global health who oversaw the report’s release, said, “This points sharply at an opportunity for cities and countries to consider air quality and air pollution as high-risk factors when developing health policies and other noncommunicable disease prevention and control programs.”

Related: Many Americans are exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution