Why Don’t We Care About Air Health?

It’s weird. If you look at publications and articles that focus on health, we see a focus on a wide variety of issues. Things like vaccines, nutrition, pharmaceuticals, drugs, and more are all a focus. Sleep, of course, has recently seen a huge resurgence in interest due to the over-productivity among Americans.

And yet, it is quite rare to see any concern for the air we breathe.

This despite the fact that things like climate change, pollution, and more are almost constant discussions?

That is a huge problem. Here’s why.

The Health Effects of Air Pollution

While most of us are generally quite aware of the negative health effects of not getting enough sleep or eating too many carbs, the health effects of air pollution seem to be relatively unknown. So here is a list of just some of the dangers of not breathing clean air:

1. Asthma attacks

It should come as no surprise that people with sensitive lungs will be negatively affected by low quality air. Sadly, people who suffer from asthma are some of the biggest victims of low air quality.

2. Susceptibility to infection

Air pollution increases the chances of a lung infection, especially among young children.

3. Lung tissue swelling and irritation

This one applies to everyone. Even short term exposure can lead to these problems, and over time it can create even worse issues. And for those suffering from things like COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), it can lead to hospitalization or even death.

4. Heart attacks and stroke

It’s true. This doesn’t just affect lungs, sadly, but can cause very serious cardiovascular issues, especially for those who are already sensitive or suffering from these issues.

5. Reduced life expectancy

Yep, sadly living in polluted areas, or having polluted homes [LINK TO BLOG POST], directly leads to a lower life expectancy. Worldwide, average life expectancy was reduced by almost 2 years due to air pollution. The result is almost 4.2 million lives lost prematurely due to air pollution every year.

Pollution, in fact, is the cause of:

  • 29% of all deaths and disease from lung cancer

  • 17% of all deaths and disease from acute lower respiratory infection

  • 24% of all deaths from stroke

  • 25% of all deaths and disease from ischaemic heart disease

  • 43% of all deaths and disease from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

These may be obvious to some of you, but there are some health effects of low air health that you may not have ever guessed. Here are a few:

1. Poor bone health

Yep, air quality goes all the way down to our bones. In a recent study, it was found that the worse the pollution in an area, the higher the number of hospital admissions for broken bones.

2. Poor academic performance and productivity

It’s true: multiple studies have now shown that academic performance is negatively impacted by air pollution (and as would be expected, it has a stronger impact on younger children).

Productivity for adults is similarly affected.

Which, sadly, points to an even more serious issue:

3. Mental health impairment

In a recent article in BBC Future, the powerful mental health effects of breathing poor air was extensively documented. In one example, they described a study that showed a connection between pollution and increased psychotic episodes among teenagers. Another study, after accounting for parental education, poverty, the quality of their neighbourhood, and many other factors, found that “delinquent behaviour,” such as cheating, truancy, stealing, vandalism and substance use, was greatly increased by pollution. They cited further studies that showed a connection to even more serious crimes.

All of this is likely connected to the fact that some pollutants can damage brain structure and neural connections. As a researcher they interviewed described, “So what could be happening is that these air pollutants are damaging the pre-frontal lobe.” The pre-frontal lobe happens to be the area that controls our impulses and self-control.

4. Weight gain and diabetes

Yep, it’s true. In a recent study, mice exposed to air pollution had greater volumes of body fat around the belly and internal organs. In fact, fat cells themselves were around 20% larger in the mice exposed to pollution.

But it goes even further: pollution made them less sensitive to insulin. That is exactly the first step towards developing diabetes.

Studies among humans have shown similar results. One Swiss study found that insulin resistance, hypertension, and waist-circumference were all affected by people living in areas with high air pollution.

Are We In Danger?

Okay, that’s a lot of stuff to take in. So let me lighten the blow just a tad: if you live in America, you are likely less exposed to the most extreme of these issues than people in countries with incredibly serious pollution problems, like India.

But this is not a reason to lower our guard. Sadly, according to the World Health Organization, 90% of people worldwide breathe dangerously polluted air. To make matters worse, pollution is actually even worse in our homes [LINK TO BLOG], where it can be 2 to 5 times worse than the pollution outdoors.

So, yes, sadly, we need to take this very seriously.

What To Do

The real good news is that there is quite a lot we can do to take care of our air health. Just as much as any area of health, we can take control of these issues as long as we learn about them and are properly informed about what solutions to take.

Simple precautions for homes can include things like having more plants in your home and purchasing home air purifiers.

To protect yourself from outdoor air pollution, you should regularly check pollution forecasts in your area, avoid exercising in high pollution areas, and more.

Stay tuned on this blog, and we’ll keep finding you answers to these questions and more. After all, it’s time we started taking air health seriously.

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