Air Pollution Is Causing Rise in Deaths, Disability Worldwide

THURSDAY, Aug. 10, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- The heart risks posed by air pollution have grown worldwide over the past three decades, a new study claims.

The annual number of premature heart-related deaths and years of disability attributable to particulate matter (PM) air pollution increased 31% between 1990 and 2019, the researchers reported.

Men suffered more than women, experiencing a 43% increase in air pollution-related deaths, compared to a 28% increase among women.

Wealth also played a role.

Regions with better socioeconomic conditions lost the lowest number of years of life due to air pollution-related heart disease attributed to PM pollution. However, people in these areas also had the highest number of years lived with disability.

The opposite was true in less affluent regions, with more lives lost and fewer years lived with disability.

Previous research already has established the association of particulate matter pollution to heart-related death and disability. But questions remain about the worldwide impact from this type of pollution, as well as how it has been changing over time, the study authors noted.

“We focused on examining the burden globally because particulate matter pollution is a widespread environmental risk factor that affects all populations worldwide, and understanding its impact on cardiovascular health can help guide public health interventions and policy decisions,” said senior study author Dr. Farshad Farzadfar. He is a professor of medicine in the non-communicable diseases research center of the Endocrinology and Metabolism Research Institute at Tehran University of Medical Sciences in Iran.

His team used data from 204 countries to analyze particulate matter pollution as a risk factor for death and disability. The data was gathered between 1990 and 2019 as part of the Global Burden of Disease study, which estimated air pollution exposure and rates of stroke and heart disease.

The investigators analyzed changes over time in years of life lost due to premature death, years lived with disability, and disability-adjusted life years. The last is a measure that considers both the loss of life and the impact on quality of life, to assess the full impact of a health condition on a population.

The researchers concluded that the total number of premature deaths and years of heart-related disability from diseases attributable to particulate matter pollution rose from 2.6 million in 1990 to 3.5 million in 2019, a 31% worldwide increase.

The research also revealed that between 1990 and 2019, there was a nearly 37% decrease in premature deaths attributed to particulate matter pollution. That means that while fewer people had died from heart disease, people have been living longer with disability caused by air pollution.

The findings were published Aug. 9 in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

“The declines in deaths may be considered positive news, as they indicate improvements in health care, air pollution control measures and access to treatment,” Farzadfar said in a heart association news release. “However, the increase in disability-adjusted life years suggests that although fewer people were dying from cardiovascular disease, more people were living with disability.”

Finally, the researchers found that between 1990 and 2019, heart-related death and disability attributed to outdoor air pollution rose by 8%, while death and disability attributed to household air pollution fell by 65%.

Indoor air pollution is most often produced by cooking fuels such as coal, charcoal, crop residue, dung and wood, the researchers said.

“The reason for the decrease in the burden of household air pollution from solid fuels might be better access and use of cleaner fuels, such as refined biomass, ethanol, liquefied petroleum gas, solar and electricity,” Farzadfar noted.

“Moreover, structural changes, such as improved cookstoves and built-in stoves, chimney hoods and better ventilation, might be effective in reducing pollution exposure to solid fuels. Finally, the effects of educational and behavioral interventions should be considered,” Farzadfar added. “The shifting pattern from household air pollution due to solid fuels to outdoor, ambient PM pollution has important public policy implications.”

More information

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has more about particle air pollution.

SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, Aug. 9, 2023

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