A new study shows that air pollution ups the risk of low birth weight in babies, leading to lifelong health damage. Low birth weight predicts lifelong risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and raises the risk of the baby dying in infancy.
Another Unicef study published on Wednesday (Dec 6) shows that globally, two billion kids (90% of all children) take in toxic air above WHO guidelines. About 17 million babies breathe air six times more toxic than recommended.
UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake said, “Not only do pollutants harm babies’ developing lungs – they can permanently damage their developing brains – and, thus, their futures. No society can afford to ignore air pollution.”
South Asia worst affected
According to the study, babies in South Asia were the worst affected. Over 12 million babies live in areas with pollution six times higher than safe levels.
“As more of the world urbanises, and without adequate protection and pollution reduction measures, more children will be at risk in the years to come,” Unicef said
Pooja Narayan, mother of a one-year-old, says she plans to send their daughter to boarding school when she is older. “There is no point if the child cannot play out in the open and is breathing toxic air,” says Narayan.
“No child should have to breathe dangerously polluted air – and no society can afford to ignore air pollution,” said Lake.
The report calls for reducing children’s exposure to pollutants by making it feasible for them to travel during times of the day when air pollution is lower; providing air filtration masks in extreme cases; and creating smart urban planning so that major sources of pollution are not located near schools, clinics or hospitals.