Consequences of inhaling polluted air for children

Children, who account for approximately 26% of the total global population, are among the most vulnerable to the adversities that revolve around the direct and indirect implications of air pollution. Ambient air pollution, which mainly arises as a result of fossil fuel combustion, industrial processes, and waste incineration, puts the health and development of children at great risk. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 93% of children under 15 years are exposed to polluted air and hence are more prone to the ramifications that it carries. These children are more susceptible to relatively diminished neurodevelopment and cognitive ability (WHO,2018)1 in comparison to that of a child who is not exposed to air pollution levels beyond the WHO guidelines. Children exposed to greater levels of air pollution are at a higher risk of developing asthma, Acute Lower Respiratory Infection (ALRI), and childhood cancer (WHO,2018)1, and are also at a greater risk of developing chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and otitis media, later in life. 

Thus, the question begs; what makes children more vulnerable to the detriments of air pollution than the older demographic? Among the many factors at play is the more rapid respiratory process in children, implying that they inhale more air per unit of body weight than adults (WHO)2. In addition to absorbing more pollutants, children also live closer to the ground where certain pollutants reach peak concentrations (UNFCCC,2018)3. As their bodies are still developing, children have weaker metabolization, detoxification, and excretion processes2 necessary to filter out the toxicants present in polluted air. 

Aside from general measures taken to curb air pollution, such as choosing less polluted times when going outside and wearing a mask in heavily polluted areas, it must be made sure that children are kept up to date with their immunizations, maintain a healthy diet, and be physically active. Measures can also be taken to locate schools and playgrounds away from major sources of air pollution, such as busy roads. Safe walking routes away from congested roads and ‘green’ public transport could be promoted in order to protect children who walk to school. 

1  World Health Organization (WHO), ‘’More than 90% of the world’s children breathe toxic air everyday’’, October 2018, (accessed 14 March 2022)

2 WHO, ‘’Children and air pollution’’, (accessed on 14 March 2022)

3 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), ‘’Polluted air affects more than 90% of children’’, October 2018, (accessed 14 March 2022)