Air Pollution is The Second Biggest Cause of Early Death Worldwide

A report released Wednesday reveals that nearly 2,000 children die every day from health issues related to air pollution, now the second largest risk factor for early death worldwide.

The US-based Health Effects Institute (HEI) reported that air pollution contributed to the deaths of 8.1 million people, or around 12 percent of all global fatalities, in 2021.

This places air pollution above tobacco use and poor diet, making it the second leading cause of early death after high blood pressure. The HEI partnered with UNICEF for its annual State of Global Air report, highlighting the particular vulnerability of young children to polluted air.

The report found that over 700,000 children under the age of five died due to air pollution in 2021. More than 500,000 of these deaths were linked to indoor cooking with dirty fuels such as coal, wood, or dung, predominantly in Africa and Asia.

“These are solvable problems,” said Pallavi Pant, HEI’s head of global health. The report also found that nearly everyone worldwide breathes unhealthy levels of air pollution daily.

Over 90 percent of the deaths were associated with PM2.5 pollutants, tiny particles that can cause lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other health issues.

The report aimed to correlate disease rates with air pollution levels but may still underestimate the full impact, especially on brain health and neurodegenerative diseases, Pant noted. The report added that ozone pollution, expected to worsen due to climate change, was linked to nearly 500,000 deaths in 2021.

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