New data has identified a clear link between higher levels of exposure to air pollution and deteriorating lung health in adult European citizens. This study confirms previous findings that children growing up in areas with higher levels of pollution will have lower levels of lung function and a higher risk of developing symptoms such as cough and bronchitis symptoms. Additionally, the new study identified that people suffering from obesity are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of air pollution, possibly due to an increased risk of lung inflammation.
Senior author, Nicole Probst-Hensch and lead author Martin Adam, from the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, said: "The ESCAPE project has clearly confirmed that air quality largely differs across Europe. The findings of this project are crucial as they demonstrate that air pollution is having a negative effect, not only on children as previously demonstrated, but also into adulthood. Although the levels we see in Europe are much lower than in the so-called megacities in China and India, we are still seeing a deterioration of lung function in people exposed to higher levels of air pollution and this must be addressed."
Commenting on the results, Professor Peter Barnes, President of the ERS, said: "The findings of this study demonstrate the importance of educating about clean air and the negative effects of air pollution. Urgent action is needed to tackle air pollution in Europe. It is crucial that policymakers in Europe take note of these findings and update guidelines in Member States to meet the WHO recommended air quality standards. This will ensure equal protection of all citizens' health across the continent."
A large proportion of Europe's population live in areas with levels of air quality that are known to have negative impacts on health. Earlier this year, the WHO estimated that air pollution was the cause of seven million premature deaths in 2012, with 3.7 million of these being connected with poor outdoor air quality.
European Study of Cohorts of Air Pollution Effects (ESCAPE)
In the first study of its kind, researchers from across the continent evaluated the correlation between air pollution and lung function in Europe. The researchers used indicators of traffic in the area and modelled the exposure levels to different pollution measures including nitrogen oxides (NO2 and NOx) and particulate matter (PM). Lung function data were collected from 7,613 participants through spirometry testing in adults across eight different countries (Switzerland, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Spain, Sweden). The results were published online today (6 September 2014) in the European Respiratory Journal (ERJ).
The new study, is part of the EU-funded European Study of Cohorts of Air Pollution Effects (ESCAPE) project.
Healthy Lungs for Life campaign: Breathe Clean Air
The news comes as the European Respiratory Society (ERS) and European Lung Foundation (ELF) launch their inaugural Healthy Lungs for Life campaign with the theme: Breathe Clean Air. The campaign, is being launched at the European Respiratory Society International Congress in Munich this week (6 September 2014) and aims to raise awareness and educate about the importance of healthy lungs and clean air free from particulate matter, pathogens, smoke and dangerous gases.
At the Opening Ceremony of the Congress, Zsuzsanna Jakob, WHO Regional Director for Europe, will receive the ELF Award in recognition of the WHO's efforts to improve lung health with the introduction of the air quality guidelines.