The burning of fossil fuels (oil, gas or coal) not only has a negative impact on human health, but also leads to serious climate change. Both pose a serious threat to future generations.
In a review article by Prof Perera of Columbia University (New York, USA), the results of studies from around the world published in the last ten years on the impact of air pollution and climate change on children's health are presented.
Children under 5 years of age make up only 10% of the world's population, but they are the ones most affected by the ever-deteriorating environment (approximately 40% of all illnesses caused by environmental change are attributable to children). According to the World Health Organisation, approximately 88% children suffer from diseases caused by climate change. This problem particularly affects children living in the poorest regions of the world.
The group most vulnerable to air pollution are children and infants. The reason for this is an underdeveloped immune system to protect against toxic compounds. In addition, harmful substances lingering in the air can retard a child's mental development, such as lowering IQ levels and even causing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Studies in Europe, California and China show a correlation between air pollution and premature births and underweight babies born.
Air pollutants released by the burning of fossil fuels directly affect a child's respiratory system, causing conditions such as asthma and bronchitis. Recent studies from the USA show that more and more children are suffering from asthma and bronchitis.
The burning of fossil fuels releases significant amounts of greenhouse gases (e.g. CO2), which, by trapping heat from the sun's rays, lead to a gradual warming of the climate. Higher temperatures can cause infectious diseases such as malaria and tropical viral disease to spread faster.
Due to rising temperatures, primary pollutants are transformed into tropospheric ozone, which is a so-called secondary pollutant. Inhalation of ozone irritates the lungs, leading to serious respiratory problems, especially in children with asthma symptoms.
As the article points out, knowledge of the health impacts of air pollution and climate change is very important for doctors, especially paediatricians caring for children's health. Today, one of the main roles played by physicians should be to make the community aware of the harmful effects of air pollution and climate change on human health.
In his work, Prof Perera emphasises: "future action should focus on reducing air pollutant emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels in order to protect the group of people most vulnerable to their effects - children".
Source: Perera, F.P, 2016. Multiple threats to child health from fossil fuel combustion: Impacts of air pollution and climate change. Environmental Health Perspectives. do1:10.1289/EHP299.