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New links between air pollution and reduced health outcomes

Epidemiological studies show that long-term exposure to air pollution reduces life expectancy.

There is increasing international alarm over the sheer volumes of fossil-fuel based plastics entering the environment - Copyright AFP/File Luis ACOSTA
There is increasing international alarm over the sheer volumes of fossil-fuel based plastics entering the environment - Copyright AFP/File Luis ACOSTA

Poor air quality is the largest environmental risk to public health in many parts of the world, especially under the conditions of urban or city living. Over the years, studies have shown how air pollution is a major cause of premature death and disease. What is the situation in 2021, now that society is more ‘enlightened’ as to the risks upon the body?

To investigate the impact of air pollution on health, Digital Journal assesses three recent studies examining air pollution levels with overall health outcomes.

Reducing pollution improves overall health

To highlight the impact of improved pollution levels and overall health, researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health  have demonstrated how decreasing vehicle emissions since 2008 correlate with a reduction by thousands the number of deaths attributable to air pollution.

The research provides estimates, based on a high probability and statistical significance, that compare the actual health and climate impact of reduced vehicle emissions with what that impact would have been had emissions not been reduced.

The 2021 research appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, titled “Health benefits of decreases in on-road transportation emissions in the United States from 2008 to 2017.”

Rising pollution is connected to heart attacks

Data suggests that when air pollution levels soar, so does the rate of heart attacks. This is the outcome of a German study that was presented at the European Society of Anaesthesiology and Intensive Care (ESAIC) in 2021, as reported by Laboratory Roots.

The connection exists because exposure to air pollution leads to increases in oxidative stress and inflammation within the human body. This then triggers many chronic disease pathways. In particular, fine particles in polluted air negatively impact blood vessel function and accelerate blockages in the arteries, leading to heart problems.

Air pollution impacts on our attempts to be healthy

Air pollution not only negatively affects overall health, as indicated by the above studies, it also affects our ability to stay healthy. A medical investigation shows that people who do vigorous physical activities, like jogging or playing competitive sports, in areas with higher air pollution may show less benefit from that exercise when it comes to certain markers of brain disease.

In other words, some beneficial effects essentially disappeared for vigorous physical activity in areas with the highest levels of air pollution. This was based on an examination of gray and white matter in the brain, with the presence of higher levels of air pollution affecting white matter hyperintensities and hence failing to counter-balance the impact of ‘brain aging’.

The research appears in the journal Neurology, with the science paper titled “Association of Air Pollution and Physical Activity With Brain Volumes.”

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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