That’s according to latest research, which looked into asthma cases in children from one to 14 years old in 18 European countries, including the UK, Austria. Denmark, France, Germany and Spain.
Asthma is the most common chronic disease in children and emerging evidence suggests exposure to air pollution may increase the risk of developing this respiratory disease during childhood.
The new study, led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), looked at the burden of asthma on more than 63.4 million children. Around 1.1 million children in the UK are believed to suffer from asthma.
According to guidelines from the World Health Organisation (WHO), levels of PM2.5 should not exceed an annual average of 10 μg/m3, and NO2 levels should not exceed an annual average of 40 μg/m3.
The researchers suggest if the 18 countries stay within the limits for PM2.5, around 66,600 new cases of childhood asthma – 11% of the total incident cases – could be prevented.
They add compliance with the NO2 levels could prevent around 2,400 childhood asthma cases per year – 0.4% of the total incident cases.
In a second scenario, if the 18 countries were able to meet the lowest levels of PM2.5 ever recorded by previous studies, more than 190,000 annual cases – or 33% of incident cases- could be prevented.
The number of new cases that could be avoided per year if the lowest levels of NO2 and black carbon were achieved would be 135,000 and 89,000 respectively.
The researchers note their estimations show current NO2 WHO air quality guideline value “seems to provide much less protection than the PM2.5 guideline” and therefore suggest the values should be lowered, adding the WHO limits are currently under review.
Haneen Khreis, Lead Author of the study and an associated researcher at the Center for Advancing Research in Transportation Emissions, Energy, and Health at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, believes this new analysis is “a call for urgent action”.
He added: “Only in the past two years, several analyses on air pollution and onset of childhood asthma have emerged, strengthening the case from different research teams that air pollution is contributing substantially to the burden of paediatric asthma.
“Largely, these impacts are preventable and there are numerous policy measures which can reduce the ambient levels of and children’s exposures to, outdoor air pollution. We can and should do something about it.”
The other European countries covered in the study are Belgium, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland.