Royal Colleges Report on Lifelong Impact of Air Pollution

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) and Royal College of Physicians (RCP) have released a ground-breaking new report ‘Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution’ which examines the health implications of exposure to air pollution across the course of a lifetime. This report is the first to take a life-course approach to the impact of air pollution on health. 

Each year in the UK, around 40,000 deaths are attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution, which plays a role in many of the major health challenges of our day. It has been linked to cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease, diabetes, obesity and changes linked to dementia. The health problems resulting from exposure to air pollution have a high cost for people who suffer from illness and premature death, for our health services and for businesses. In the UK, these costs add up to more than £20 billion every year.

This report considers the evidence for how exposure to air pollution during pregnancy may be associated with low birth weight and pre-term births, and its effect on diabetes and neurological disease. This is in addition to health effects of air pollution that are already well recognised such as increases in hospital admissions and deaths from cardiovascular diseases, and respiratory diseases such as asthma and lung cancer. There is now compelling evidence that air pollution is associated with new-onset asthma in children and in adults. The report also explores how the sources of air pollution have changed - it affects the air we breathe inside as well as outdoors.

Recommendations for action include:
•    Monitor air pollution effectively. Air pollution monitoring by central and local government must track exposure to harmful pollutants in major urban areas and near schools. 
•    Quantify the relationship between indoor air pollution and health. We must strengthen our understanding of the relationship between indoor air pollution and health, including the key risk factors and effects of poor air quality in our homes, schools and workplaces. 
•    Protect those most at risk. Children, older people, and people with chronic health problems are among the most vulnerable to air pollution. Public services must take account of this disproportionate harm through local tools such as planning policies for housing and schools, equalities impact assessments, and joint strategic needs assessments.  
•    Put the onus on the polluters. Polluters must be required to take responsibility for harming our health. Political leaders at a local, national and EU level must introduce tougher regulations, including reliable emissions testing for cars. 

For more information about this report please contact Methela Haque, public affairs adviser at the RCP on or Margaret Donnellan, public affairs lead at the RCPCH on