Children are dying from air pollution. Here’s how we can protect them

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Riya Master, Undergraduate Research Fellow, Harvard Medical School & Neha Rana, Undergraduate Research Fellow, Harvard Medical School & Ben Grobman, Medical Student, Harvard Medical School & David Duong, Director, Program in Global Primary Care and Social Change, Harvard Medical School

  • According to the World Health Organization approximately 90% of children are breathing in toxic air every day.
  • Studies show that exposure to air pollution can lead to long-term health conditions and even death.
  • We outline the key measures needed to combat the environmental health risks of air pollution.

Air pollution negatively impacts children across the world. It adversely impacts our childrens’ learning, health, and overall wellbeing. Children are particularly vulnerable to the health effects of air pollution since they have a faster breathing rate than adults and their smaller bodies result in a proportionately greater air-pollutant intake compared to their adult counterparts.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 90% of our children are breathing in toxic air every day. This poses a serious risk to their physical and mental development. A major concern for children is their exposure to traffic-related air pollution on their routes to school. In the US, diesel school buses alone expose children to 3,000 tons of soot and 95,000 tons of smog-causing compounds a year.

Similarly, in Nepal, 69% of students in government schools suffer from health conditions directly related to environmental exposure. In developed and developing countries alike, adults have created a world where the next generation struggles to breathe, and the clean air movement is a matter of life or death for thousands of children globally.

Impact of air pollution on children's health. Source: WHO.
Impact of air pollution on children’s health. Source: WHO.

Air pollution significantly increases morbidity from common pediatric conditions such as asthma. Pollution due to automobile traffic alone is responsible for an estimated 13% of global incidence of asthma among children. A 2020 study from Harvard University showed that asthmatic children who lived and attended school closer to major roadways had higher incidence of asthma symptoms, healthcare, utilization, and poorly controlled asthma.

A similar study found that long-term exposure to air pollution is associated with lower mid-childhood lung function. Aside from impairing lung function, fossil fuel pollution leads to reduced birth weight, increased preterm birth, and worsened mental health among children. These negative outcomes are particularly severe among minority children in the US and children in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

In the US, Black children have nearly twice the rate of asthma as White children and are four times more likely to die of asthma than their White counterparts. In LMICs, 98% of children under the age of five are exposed to air pollution which exceeds the limits set by the WHO, as compared to only 52% in high income countries. Furthermore, air pollution led to 500,000 deaths among newborns in 2019, 20% of the total global infant mortality. Nearly half of these deaths were in sub-Saharan Africa.

The most significant driver of neonatal deaths from air pollution in LMICs is household air pollution (produced through cooking using solid fuels), which accounts for almost two-thirds of neonatal deaths worldwide. These statistics show the urgent need to address air pollution for children globally, especially for minorities and people in LMICs who bear a disproportionate burden of the crisis.

What can be done to improve air quality and children’s health?

There are many strategies which can promote air pollution reduction, ranging from the individual consumer to international organizations. With an increase in technology and advancements in transportation, there has been an increase in the push for clean transportation. Though it may seem miniscule, utilizing public transportation, biking, or simply walking is one of the most effective ways an individual can reduce their own carbon footprint and air pollution.

Promoting safe walking routes for children is an important way to reduce their exposure to air pollution en route to school and school-related activities. Mapping out walking routes with minimal air pollution and reduced emissions is an initiative that school districts could implement to help their students lead healthier lives. This is especially important in LMICs, where many children use high exposure methods such as walking to get to school. Environment

What’s the World Economic Forum doing to tackle air pollution?

Over 50% of countries have established national ambient air quality standards, but we must do more to protect citizens and our planet.

During COP26 the World Economic Forum and the Clean Air Fund launched the first global private sector initiative to tackle air pollution.

Founding members of the Alliance for Clean Air are committed to measuring and decreasing their air pollution emissions, creating healthier communities around the world.

Members of the Alliance for Clean Air will:

  • Establish air pollution footprints on nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, particulate matter within 12 months
  • Pinpoint where they are being emitted to track human exposure
  • Set ambitious targets and objectives to reduce the air pollution emissions, with a clear action plan
  • Act as champions for clean air by raising awareness among employees, customers and communities about the impact of air pollution. They will also help them to reduce their exposure and support them to take action to reduce pollution
  • Use their assets innovatively to accelerate clean air solutions

Also at COP26, a practical guide for businesses on how to measure air pollution across value chains is being introduced by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition and Stockholm Environment Institute, in co-operation with IKEA. The guide will support companies to understand their impact on air quality and to take necessary actions to reduce their emissions.

If your company is committed to improving air quality contact us to express interest in working with us.

It is estimated that 1.7 million deaths of children per year can be attributed to environmental pollution. In many LMICs, there is an increased risk of outdoor and indoor air pollution because of limited access to safe and environmentally friendly resources. Unsafe fuel-burning practices using kerosene and biomass, such as animal manure and wood, are necessary for simple stoves. Over 2.5 billion people in the world cook with open fires, drastically increasing the amount of air pollution not only in their households, but in the surrounding open environments. The residual effects of this form of air pollution compounded with air pollution from motor vehicles and many other contributors drastically threatens the health and safety of our children.

Advocating for policies that support the green transition of public transport is a tangible way to get involved in the clean air movement. In the US, school buses account for 90% of the nation’s total bus fleet and carry 25 million children daily. Pushing for green public transportation, including electric school buses for children, would significantly reduce the amount of air pollution from transportation. Additionally, the iterations of the Clean Air Bus Program in states like New York and California provide grants for costs incurred by retrofitting school buses; this initiative could be modeled and applied to other parts of the country.

As we conclude COP26 and mark International Children’s Day on 20 November 2021, a concerted global effort to guarantee clean air for our children is of the utmost priority. A healthier world necessitates creating a safe and healthy environment for children to grow and learn. The status quo has put this new generation at a significant disadvantage. We need to take action to ensure that every child is able to enjoy their walks to school and games on the playground without facing an increased risk of asthma, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Our children are dying from dirty air. The time to act is now.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Lebanon: UN rights office calls for de-escalation of protest violence

Here’s how companies can make sure they are blockchain-ready

Why the financial scandals multiply?

JADE Generations Club: Connecting perspectives, changing Europe.

At global health forum, UN officials call for strong, people-focused health systems

To entrepreneurship and beyond!

My ‘’cultural’’ contacts with China

‘We are nowhere closer’ to Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, than a year ago, Security Council hears

‘Rare but devastating’ tsunamis underscore need for better preparation, UN chief urges on World Day

‘Regional security and integration’ in Central Africa under threat, Security Council warned

‘Spectre of poverty’ hangs over tribes and indigenous groups: UN labour agency

Recovery and Resilience Facility: Romania submits official recovery and resilience plan

Artificial intelligence: Commission takes forward its work on ethics guidelines

Industrial policy: recommendations to support Europe’s leadership in six strategic business areas

The ocean is teeming with microplastic – a million times more than we thought, suggests new research

Can Obama attract Iran close to the US sphere of influence?

Bring killers of journalists to justice: UN agency seeks media partners for new campaign

Regulate social media platforms to defend democracy, MEPs say

Canada has the most comprehensive and elaborate migration system, but some challenges remain

G20 LIVE: World Leaders in Turkey for G20 Summit. Global Economy will be discussed in Antalya

These countries are the most optimistic about economic recovery from the pandemic

Last-chance Commission: Why Juncker promised investments of €300 billion?

COP25: Developing nation’s strike hard

Ireland’s planning to make its Emerald Isle even greener

Peer-to-peer learning: a way to develop medical students’ trainings

ISIL continues to pose a ‘serious challenge’ worldwide – UN counter-terror chief

Biodiversity: MEPs demand binding targets to protect wildlife and people

Leaders need hard data to make the hard decisions about sustainability

Nicaragua ‘crisis’ still cause for concern amid murder, torture allegations: Bachelet

Trump: Hostile to Europe, voids Tillerson’s “ironclad” ally pledge

Businesses, governments and consumers to implement a more climate-friendly approach to #BeatPlasticPollution on World Environment Day 2018

Right2Water initiative: Is the Commission ready to listen to citizens?

Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate deal is bad for US business. Here’s why.

3 natural mysteries that could be explained by quantum physics

The winds of change: 5 charts on the future of offshore power

Millions of Bangladeshi children at risk from climate crisis, warns UNICEF

COVID-19 and the importance of scientific credibility in decreasing the number of cases

Antitrust: Commission opens investigation into possible anti-competitive conduct of Amazon

Plastic is a global problem. It’s also a global opportunity

NASA is recruiting new astronauts – this is what it takes to apply

Why it’s time to celebrate migrants

Fighting forest fires in Europe – how it works

The Pegasus Project awarded the 2021 Daphne Caruana Galizia Prize for Journalism

Detecting online child sexual abuse requires strong safeguards

Sexual reproductive health rights SRHR and ending HIV: can one be achieved without the other?

Greenhouse gas emissions have already peaked in 30 major cities

Transparency, EU values, and pluralism: new rules for European political parties

Central Asia bloc has important role in ‘peace, stability and prosperity’ beyond region, says Deputy UN chief

Greater transparency, fairer prices for medicines ‘a global human rights issue’, says UN health agency

It’s time to end our ‘separate but unequal’ approach to mental health

How smart tech helps cities fight terrorism and crime

EU and Mercosur reach agreement on trade

UN committed to helping Haiti build better future, says Guterres, marking 10-year anniversary of devastating earthquake

Antitrust: Commission sends Statement of Objections to O2 CZ, CETIN and T-Mobile CZ for their network sharing agreement

5 things to know about the exploding world of pro gaming

World Food Programme accesses Yemeni frontline district for first time since conflict began

UN chief calls for ‘immediate end’ to escalation of fighting in southwestern Syria, as thousands are displaced

The world’s food waste problem is bigger than we thought – here’s what we can do about it

A Sting Exclusive: “Seize the opportunity offered by Africa’s continental free trade area”, written by the Director General of UNIDO

More Stings?


  1. What an eye opener article, indeed we are ignoring that issue but it’s alarming and its time to take action / to play our vital role making green and pollution free environment. Thanks for sharing this valued article.

    mississauga massage therapist

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: