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Jun 19, 2019

Air Pollution Shortens Lifespan by Two Years

A new model suggests that death toll from air pollution is twice as high as initial estimates.

Experts call for clean, renewable energy sources to promote better health, based on a recent study estimating that air pollution kills 790,000 Europeans each year and shortens the average lifespan by more than two years.

Published in the European Heart Journal, this study estimated the impact of air pollution on public health. It used updated models and data, which are considered more accurate than those previously used, to explore how many deaths could potentially be prevented with cleaner air.

In a previous study, authors estimated that air pollution was to blame for 4.55 million deaths globally in 2015. Based on an updated model, however, the death toll was twice as high, with air pollution claiming 8.79 million lives in 2015.

Mortality data was provided by the World Health Organization and reflects 41 different studies conducted across 16 different countries. For the recent analysis, experts combined mortality data with global models of air pollution exposure to estimate the number of deaths caused by air pollution in 2015.

According to the latest models, air pollution causes 790,000 deaths each year in Europe and shortens the average lifespan by 2.2 years. Experts also note that anywhere from 40–80% of deaths from air pollution are due to heart disease—the world’s leading global killer.

According to the World Health Organization, heart disease caused 31% of global deaths in 2015. In Europe, however, heart disease is even more common and accounts for 45% of all deaths each year. Authors believe that addressing air pollution—a known risk factor for heart disease—could help reduce mortality rates.

As experts explain, the increased health risks from air pollution are largely due to ongoing exposure to fine particulate matter. Fine particulate matter is very small particles in the air that can get into the lungs and negatively affect our health. Many studies have shown that exposure to fine particulate matter increases risk for heart disease, similar to well established risk factors like obesity, high cholesterol and smoking. However, air pollution is largely overlooked as a contributor to heart disease and other health problems.

In fact, air pollution now outranks smoking as a leading global cause of death based on the latest estimates. The World Health Organization estimates that tobacco smoking causes 7.2 million deaths a year, compared to the 8.79 million deaths resulting from air pollution.

Of course, experts note that these numbers are just estimates and are subject to “considerable uncertainty.” Still, there’s no question that air pollution increases health risks. As a result, experts encourage replacing fossil fuels with clean, renewable energy sources to help bring down pollution rates and protect public health.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How can I reduce my exposure to air pollutants?

  • Although it is impossible to completely avoid exposure to any air pollutants, you can check local air quality conditions on the news or weather and try to go outside when air quality conditions are best (often early morning or evening and in cooler temperatures). Also, avoid being outside around traffic-congested streets where pollution can be heavy.

Infographic: Stop Heart Disease Before It Starts


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