‘Delhi kids have smaller lungs compared with children in US due to air pollution’

A study conducted on Delhi children and released recently in the Journal of Indian Pediatrics provides powerful evidence that shows children growing up in polluted environments like the Capital have reduced lung growth compared to children in developed countries like the United States.

Indian children show slower lung growth and reach a final size that is lower than the growth and size found in Caucasian children in the US. While children in both India and the US have nearly the same lung size till the age of about 8 years, when lungs complete their normal physical growth, subsequent growth is progressively different in both nations. Lung size in both Indian boys and girls is about 10% smaller when they reach adulthood.

The study was conducted by Prof. S. K. Chhabra, former Director-Professor at Vallabhbhai Patel Chest Institute and current Head of Department, Pulmonary Medicine, Primus Hospital, New Delhi.

Childhood infections

The study highlights how air quality and childhood infections influence lung growth, besides genetic factors. Air pollution retards lung growth in Delhi’s children and even Indian adults have smaller lungs compared to their US counterparts. Smaller lungs mean poorer exercise capacity, and greater vulnerability to respiratory symptoms and diseases. This is especially scary given that 40% of urban children live in cities.

Reacting to the study, Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director, research and advocacy, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), said: “If this does not wake us up to the health emergency, what will? Those who are in denial over environmental pollution-related deaths and illnesses in India should understand that the scary death tally and illnesses in Indians and children make a mockery of the country’s growth story. India will have to do drastically a lot more to reduce pollution exposure and not less. It will be criminal not to act on the mounting health evidence and ask for more evidence from our own children, the elderly and the vulnerable.”

A release issued by the CSE on Tuesday noted that leading medical and public health experts came together on Tuesday under the aegis of the Indian Council of Medical Research, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, to release the first-ever systematic assessment of burden of disease at both the national and State-level in India. The report notes the progress in increasing life expectancy across the country and in all States, although improvements vary substantially across States. However, the report warns that air pollution remains the second most important risk factor nationally.

Health risks

“Simultaneously, the report of the Lancet Commission on Health and Pollution has looked at the full range of environmental health risks based on the systematic global burden of disease estimates. This shows some nine million deaths occur each year worldwide due to air, water and chemical exposure. Air pollution is at the top of the list, with outdoor and indoor air pollution contributing the lion’s share, some six million deaths. India remains one of the worst affected, with 1.9 million premature deaths due to outdoor and indoor air pollution,” noted the release.

The group noted that the evidence makes it clear that comprehensive and long-term strategies for reducing air pollution are critical to protect public health. At the same time, they note that this is likely an underestimate and that there are many exposures for which data is not yet strong enough to quantify the effects.

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Printable version | Oct 23, 2020 6:21:56 PM |

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