A study of over 2,000 school children in London has shown that pollution from diesel vehicles affects lung growth, which could increase their risk of lung conditions as they get older.
The study aimed to learn whether London’s low emission zones, introduced in 2008 and made stricter in 2012, were having an impact on air quality and children’s lung health. Between 2009 and 2014, scientists tested the lung function of 8- and 9-year olds from schools across east London. They also studied the air pollution levels near the children’s homes and schools during these periods.
The results showed that during periods where pollution levels were above the legal limit, children had a 5% reduced lung capacity. The researchers also noted that, while air quality had got better after the low emission zone was put into place, it was still not at a low enough level to benefit lung health.
While the study was based in London, its findings could be useful for policymakers in many other cities.
Children are particularly vulnerable to toxic air as their lungs have not yet reached their full capacity. Lung capacity grows until the age of 18, after which it slowly decreases. Therefore, if a person’s lungs do not fully grow during childhood, they are more likely to enter adulthood with smaller lungs than they should have and be at higher risk of lung conditions in later life.
Based on these findings, the researchers called for drastic action to reduce air pollution and highlighted the importance of evaluating the health impacts of policies to make sure they are effective. They also recommend that parents and carers do what they can to reduce their children’s exposure.
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