Urban Air Pollution Drives Millions of Cases of Asthma in Kids

Thursday, January 6, 2022 — Far fewer children could develop asthma if there were less traffic pollution, according to a new study that looked at the problem worldwide.

“Our study found that nitrogen dioxide puts children at risk for asthma and that the problem is particularly acute in urban areas,” said study author Susan Annenberg, associate professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University in Washington, DC.

“The findings suggest that clean air should be an important part of strategies aimed at keeping children healthy,” she said in a university news release.

According to the study, 2 million new cases of asthma in children annually may be caused by nitrogen dioxide, or NO2.

The researchers studied ground-level concentrations of nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant emitted by cars, power plants and industrial sites, in 13,000 cities.

They also tracked new cases of childhood asthma between 2000 and 2019. Asthma is a chronic disease that causes inflammation of the airways in the lung.

The team attributed 1.85 million new childhood asthma cases worldwide to NO2 in 2019. Two-thirds of them were in urban areas.

The research suggested that tightening clean air regulations in high-income countries such as the United States might help. The percentage of pediatric asthma cases associated with NO2 in urban areas decreased from 20% in 2000 to 16% in 2019.

While nitrogen dioxide levels have improved in the United States and Europe, this pollution has increased in South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East. Childhood asthma cases associated with nitrogen dioxide pollution represent a significant public health burden in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, according to the study.

The researchers said more needs to be done to reduce harmful emissions from vehicles and sources of nitrogen dioxide.

“Reducing fossil-fueled transportation can help children and adults breathe easier and may have significant health benefits, such as reduced childhood asthma and increased mortality,” Annenberg said. At the same time, it will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions, leading to a healthier climate.

The results were published on January 5 in The The Lancet Planetary Health.


  • The Lancet Planetary Health. The Lancet Planetary Health, press release, January 5, 2022

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