Last updated on Jul 7th, 2020 at 02:01 pm

New research points to the problem of air pollution being a global pandemic that may shorten your life by almost three years…

You’ve probably heard that long-term exposure to air pollution increases the risks of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, but did you know that the loss of life expectancy caused by air pollution is higher than risk factors such as smoking, infectious diseases or violence?

This is according to a new study from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and the University Medical Centre Mainz.

Air pollution vs smoking and AIDS

Air pollution caused 8,8 million premature deaths worldwide in 2015. This corresponds to an average reduction in life expectancy per capita of 2,9 years.

In comparison, tobacco smoking reduces the life expectancy by an average of 2,2 years (7,2 million deaths), HIV / AIDS by 0,7 years (1 million deaths), parasitic and vector-borne diseases such as malaria – by 0,6 years (600 000 deaths).

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The air pollution pandemic

“Air pollution exceeds malaria as a cause of premature death by a factor of 19; it exceeds violence by a factor of 17 and HIV / AIDS by a factor of 9. Given the huge impact on public health and the global population, one could say that our results indicate an air pollution pandemic,” says Jos Lelieveld, director at Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and first author of the study.

In order to calculate the worldwide exposure to pollutants, which primarily include fine particles and ozone, the researchers used an atmospheric chemical model.

They then combined the exposure data with the Global Exposure – Mortality Model that derives from many epidemiological cohort studies.

Based on their results, the scientists could estimate the disease-specific excess mortality and loss of life expectancy in all countries worldwide.

Where the air is clear

The study results show that the mortality caused by ambient air pollution is highest in East Asia (35 percent) and South Asia (32 percent), followed by Africa (11 percent), Europe (9 percent) and North- and South America (6 percent).

Lowest mortality rates are found in Australia (1,5 percent) associated with the strictest air quality standards of all countries.

“We understand more and more that fine particles primarily favour vascular damage and thus diseases such as heart attack, stroke, cardiac arrhythmia and heart failure. It is of utmost importance that air pollution is adopted as a cardiovascular risk factor and that it is distinctly mentioned in the ESC/AHA guidelines of prevention, acute and coronary syndromes and heart failure,” continued Münzel.

Fossil fuel causes the majority of air pollution

According to the study, almost two-thirds of the deaths caused by air pollution, namely around 5,5 million a year are avoidable, and the majority of polluted air comes from the use of fossil fuels.

The researchers estimate that the average life expectancy worldwide would increase by more than a year if the emissions from the use of fossil fuels were eliminated.

According to the earlier study, nearly 800 000 Europeans die prematurely every year due to illnesses caused by air pollution. Polluted air shortens the lifespan of Europeans by more than two years.

Source: Max-Planck-Gesellschaft via

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