Sunday, June 4, 2023

Are Children More Vulnerable to Air Pollution Than Adults?

Children are far more vulnerable to air pollution exposure compared to adults.


There are at least six reasons why children are more vulnerable to air pollution.

The Science

Air pollution is a modern-day health hazard for all of us. Most cities in developing countries and some in the developed world have air pollution above safe levels.

When we breathe, we inhale polluted air which causes long-term body damage and short-term respiratory damage.

Life Expectancy

Life expectancy reduces by living in polluted air. in India, the average loss of life expectancy is 5.9 years, with some parts of Uttar Pradesh and New Delhi facing nearly 10 years of loss of life. That means a child born today will live 5.9 years lesser if it lived in India than it would if it lived in unpolluted parts of the world. We are killing our children by keeping them in India!

Children face more reduction in life expectancy than adults simply because the adults have already lived a good part of their lives. Adult life will reduce too, but proportionately that much less.

There are at least six more reasons why children living in polluted air suffer far more than adults:

Respiration Rate

  • An adult inhales 200 litres of air in a day per kg of his body weight.
  • A six-year child breathes in 400 litres of air per day per kg of its own body weight. So their little bodies end up fighting twice as many pollutants as adults face. Note that all children’s medicine dosages are adjusted for their weight. Similarly, bad things such as pollution also need to be reckoned as per kids’ body weights.
  • A six-week-old baby breathes in even more: 600 litres of air per day per kg of its tiny body.
  • If the air pollution to your adult body is like smoking three cigarettes a day, your kids are effectively smoking six to nine cigarettes a day. Imagine the ravages.

Immature Immune System

Children have immature, developing immune systems. So their bodies find it difficult to cope with this high pollution intake, leading to many health problems, including thyroid abnormalities and therefore, delayed developmental milestones.

Shorter Stature

Most pollutants are closer to the floor. Dust, dirt, and pollutant gases are heavier than air and are found closer to the floor surface. Since children are shorter than adults, and often sit and play on the floor, they inhale more pollutants.

Outdoor Play

Children play outdoors, making them inhale the outside pollution more than adults.

Breathing Through Mouth

Children are noisy and talk a lot. They breathe more through their mouths than their noses, bypassing the nasal mucosa and hair which is the first level of defence against dust particles.

Permeable Windpipes

Finally, the windpipe or respiratory passage has more permeable walls in children who are still growing, allowing faster transfer of certain pollutants into their blood.

Often, children cannot articulate their health troubles, especially the younger ones.

Children’s only advantage is that their young bodies have far more resilience than adults. But tested to the limits, they can break down, too.

A Partial Solution

The only way to protect children against air pollution is to have purified air to breathe. While this is not possible on playgrounds or in poor households, every affording parent must consider good quality air filtration units or purifiers in the house, especially in children’s bedrooms where they spend a good part of their time. Remember that unlike food or water pollution, air pollution causes damage based on the average exposure faced over weeks and months—few outdoor hours matter less in a full day.

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First Published on: 21st May 2023
Image Credit: brgfx on Freepik


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