Air pollution can impair brain development in babies, warns UNICEF report


"Not only do pollutants harm babies' developing lungs - they can permanently damage their developing brains - and, thus, their futures", commented UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake.

The UNICEF study used satellite imagery to identify an infant population of 12 million in South Asia at greatest risk from pollution, exceeding air pollution limits set by the World Health Organization by sixfold.

Danger in the Air: How air pollution can affect brain development in young children notes that breathing in particulate air pollution can damage brain tissue and undermine cognitive development - with lifelong implications and setbacks.

Satellite imagery reveals that South Asia has the largest proportion of babies living in the worst-affected areas, with 12.2 million babies residing where outdoor air pollution exceeds six times global limits set by the World Health Organization.

UNICEF's paper added that ultrafine pollution particles posed "an especially high risk" as they could more easily enter into the bloodstream and then travel through the body to the brain. Delhi's air pollution is now discussed at global level as the air pollution in the capital is worst in the world and in during winters its impact is severe.

According to the American Lung Association's "State of the Air" report for 2017, almost 40 percent of the United States' population still lives in counties that have unhealthful levels of air pollution. It found that pregnant women exposed to air pollution were more likely to give birth to underweight babies.

Mr. Lake suggests that children should be saved from the toxicity in the air.

Rees believes that smart urban planning - including affordable access to public transport, parks and green spaces for children, and better waste management to prevent open-air burning - will help bring pollution levels down.

Lake called on countries exceeding worldwide limits to step up efforts to reduce air pollution. "Parents must protect children from outdoor pollution and from tobacco smoke, cooking fumes and heating fires at home".

It further recommends improving children's overall health to bolster their resilience, and promotes exclusive breastfeeding and good nutrition.

The report comes at a time when Delhi and north Indian states are grappling with severe air pollution crisis. The result of same has deteriorated lungs of many children in Delhi and the pollution levels are affecting fetuses too.