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Millions of Children Develop Asthma Due to Traffic Pollution

Millions of Children Develop Asthma Due to Traffic Pollution

Written by Dr. Lakshmi Venkataraman, MD
Medically Reviewed by 
The Medindia Medical Review Team on April 11, 2019 at 6:18 PM
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  • Nearly 4 million children across the world develop asthma each year as a result of inhaling nitrogen dioxide resulting from the alarming rise in air and traffic pollution, especially in urban areas

  • Asthma is a chronic condition characterized by breathing difficulty and occurs due to inflammation and narrowing of the airways. About 235 million people globally have asthma, which can be potentially life-threatening
  • Many new cases of asthma in children can be avoided by improving air quality through measures such as electrified transport system, cycling or walking whenever possible which also enhances physical fitness and reduces greenhouse gas release into the air
About 4 million new cases of asthma are diagnosed in children globally each year as a result of inhaling nitrogen dioxide resulting from air and traffic pollution according to a study at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH).

The current study is the first to measure global incidence of new pediatric asthma cases that occur annually as a result of traffic pollution related nitrogen dioxide release and its inhalation by using a method that measures the especially high exposure to this chemical pollutant at busy roads, according to Susan C. Anenberg, PhD, associate professor of environmental and occupational health at Milken Institute SPH and senior author of the study.

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Millions of Children Develop Asthma Due to Traffic Pollution

The findings of the study appear in the journal Lancet Planetary Health.

Design of Study Measuring NO2 Exposure & Association to Childhood Asthma

  • The study, was conducted from 2010 to 2015 in 194 countries and 125 major cities across the globe
  • The team measured NO2 levels, distribution of children's populations, incident rates of asthma across various urban locations and put together these data to calculate the link between new childhood asthma cases and inhalation of traffic pollution release of nitrogen dioxide

Key Findings of the Study

  • From 2010-2015, nearly 4 million children developed asthma each year as a result of exposure to NO2 pollution, mainly derived from vehicle exhaust
  • A staggering 13 percent of childhood asthma cases annually globally was associated with exposure to NO2
  • Out of the 125 cities included in the study, NO2 contribution to childhood asthma ranged from 6 percent (Orlu, Nigeria) to 48 percent (Shanghai, China)
  • Association of NO2 and childhood asthma was more than 20 percent in 92 cities both in the developed world as well as developing countries
  • The top ten cities accounting for the highest NO2 contributions included eight cities in China (37 to 48 percent of childhood asthma), Moscow, and Seoul, South Korea at 40 percent.
  • Cities in the US also found a place in the list including Los Angeles, Chicago, Las Vegas, New York and Milwaukee being the top five cities with the largest proportion of childhood asthma cases caused by air and traffic pollution.
  • Country wise, the highest number of cases related to air pollution included China (760,000 cases of asthma per year), followed by India (350,000 cases per annum) and the United States (240,000 cases per annum).

Air Pollution - Major Environmental Hazard

The World Health Organization (WHO) considers air pollution "a major environmental health risk" and has established Air Safety and Quality Guidelines for several pollutants including NO2.
  • The study team determined that fortunately, most children in the world resided in areas having less than 21 parts per billion which is the WHO guideline for annual average NO2.
  • It was also found that nearly all (92%) of new pediatric asthma cases were of children who lived in areas that met or exceeded the WHO guideline for annual average NO2
  • It was found that generally, cities with high atmospheric NO2 concentrations also had significant greenhouse gas emissions. Measures aimed at improving air quality would help prevent new cases of asthma and other serious health issues as well as decrease global warming
  • The study team believe that current WHO air quality and safety guidelines may have to be re-examined to ensure they protect the fragile lungs of children
  • The team also feel that more research is necessary to identify the contribution of individual agents in mixed emissions. Conducting such studies in countries where data is still limited and urgent measures to improve air quality and strict monitoring may help curb asthma cases.

How to Improve Outdoor Air Quality

  • Use your car only when essential; carpool or cycle or better still walk whenever possible
  • Maintain your car in good condition
  • Turn off the engine at traffic signals to reduce emissions
  • Avoid campfires in cities
  • Avoid burning of garbage
  • Switch to electric powered vehicles and other equipment if possible
  • Plant more trees and care for them


Nearly 4 million children across the world develop asthma each year as a result of inhaling nitrogen dioxide resulting from air and traffic pollution, and this can be significantly reduced by measures aimed at improving air quality

References :
  1. New Study Finds Millions of Children Worldwide Develop Asthma Each Year Due to Traffic-Related Air Pollution - (https://publichealth.gwu.edu/content/new-study-finds-millions-children-worldwide-develop-asthma-each-year-due-traffic-related-air)

Source: Medindia

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