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New traffic pollution health risk assessments

Wednesday December 6th, 2017

Poor air quality in urban areas is particularly damaging to young children and older adults, according to two reports published today.

Firstly, a study in The BMJ today (6 December) has found that air pollution from road traffic damages the health of foetuses in London, raising the risk of low birth weight.

Dr Mireille Toledano, of Imperial College London, UK, and her team looked at the potential link using figures on 540,365 babies. They found a consistent link between air pollution and low birth weight, particularly traffic exhaust, and calculate that this directly causes 3% of cases of low birth weight in London.

"The findings suggest that air pollution from road traffic in London is adversely affecting foetal growth," they write. But they add that there was no clear evidence that traffic related noise has an effect.

A second study, this time in The Lancet indicates that air pollution on city streets may be so harmful to the heart and lungs that it cancels out the beneficial effects of exercise in older adults. The researchers, also based at Imperial College London, believe these effects could apply to other age groups too.

They tested 119 volunteers aged 60 or above, who were either healthy, had stable chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or had stable heart disease. After walking in London, tests showed that walking in Hyde Park led to greater benefits on lung capacity and blood flow than walking along Oxford Street, where pollution levels were much higher.

"These findings are important as for many people, such as the elderly or those with chronic disease, very often the only exercise they can do is to walk," said senior author, Professor Fan Chung. "Our research suggests that we might advise older adults to walk in green spaces, away from built-up areas and pollution from traffic."

Smith, R. B. et al. Impact of London's road traffic air and noise pollution on birth weight: retrospective population based cohort study. BMJ 6 December 2017; doi: 10.1136/bmj.j5299 [abstract]

Sinharay, R. et al. Respiratory and cardiovascular responses to walking down a traffic-polluted road compared with walking in a traffic-free area in participants aged 60 years and older with chronic lung or heart disease and age-matched healthy controls: a randomised, crossover study. The Lancet 6 December 2017 doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(17)32643-0 [abstract]

Tags: Childbirth and Pregnancy | Fitness | Heart Health | Nursing & Midwifery | Respiratory | UK News | Women's Health & Gynaecology

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