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One third of childhood asthma cases in Europe linked to air pollution

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Ever wondered if passing all those gas-guzzlers on the way to kindergarten has anything to do with your kid’s coughing? A recent research project suggests you’re right.

A team of scientists at Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) have studied links between childhood asthma and air pollution in Europe. It’s not exactly a micro-study in a Naples neighborhood: 64 million kids in 18 European countries are included. Their conclusion? One-third of asthma cases among European kids are linked to bad air quality.

You probably know this but asthma is a chronic inflammation. The airways between your nose and mouth and your lungs swell, and the muscles in and around those airways tighten. That can cause coughing, it can be difficult to breathe both in and out, and you can get chest pains.

The researchers have matched levels of outdoor air pollution (particulate matter, nitrogen oxide and soot) in 18 European countries with childhood asthma cases, and concluded that 66 600 childhood asthma cases could have been avoided – every year – if those countries had followed the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) thresholds for particulate matter.

Only Western European countries were included in the study, as Eastern European countries lacked air pollution exposure data. My guess is lack of data does not mean lack of air pollution or asthma…

We urgently need to reduce children’s exposure to air pollution, according to the researchers. There’s always the option to sit back and wait for politicians or the neighbor to do something about it. Alternatively, next time you walk to kindergarten, head off from the main road and walk through a quiet street instead (no, I’m not mentioning that path through the park, I’ll let you figure out that one yourself).

(Kids aged 1 to 14 are covered by the study; my almost-13-year-old would have objected strongly against being called a child, just as she will probably protest if dare tell her to follow the researchers’ advise; I might tell her to bike to school as close to the morning traffic as possible, to see what kind of response that dose receives…). 

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