Air pollution significantly shortens life expectancy

Air pollution significantly shortens life expectancy

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Air pollution: one of the leading health risks worldwide

Polluted is proven to be a cause of various diseases and premature deaths. A study has now shown that the consequences of air pollution statistically shorten the lives of people worldwide by almost three years on average.

According to a new study, increased particulate matter pollution has a much more drastic impact on health than previously known. The Mainz research team found that particulate matter, ozone and other air pollutants cost people almost three years of life worldwide - more than dangerous infectious diseases such as malaria and AIDS or smoking.

Life expectancy is reduced more than through smoking

As the University Medical Center of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz wrote in a statement, polluted air is harmful to health and increases the risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

In a new study, scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and the University Medical Center Mainz have calculated that air pollution reduces people's life expectancy more than global infectious diseases or other cardiovascular risk factors such as smoking.

The results were published in the journal "Cardiovascular Research" of the European Society of Cardiology.

Results suggest an air pollution pandemic

Air pollution was reported to cause 8.8 million premature deaths worldwide in 2015. This corresponds to an average reduction in life expectancy per head of 2.9 years.

In comparison, smoking reduces life expectancy by an average of 2.2 years (7.2 million deaths), HIV / AIDS by 0.7 years (1 million deaths), parasitic diseases and diseases caused by vectors - that is, by creatures such as mosquitoes or lice like malaria by 0.6 years (600,000 deaths).

"Air pollution exceeds malaria as a cause of premature death by a factor of 19 and HIV / AIDS by a factor of 9. Because the effects on health are so huge and affect the population worldwide, one could say that our results indicate an air pollution pandemic," explains Prof. Dr. Jos Lelieveld, director at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and first author of the study.

One of the main causes of premature death

As stated in the communication, this study is the first to examine the global impact of air pollution on human health compared to other risk factors worldwide.

“Our comparison shows that air pollution is one of the main causes of premature death and loss of years of life. The earlier probability of death is particularly caused by cardiovascular diseases, ”explains Univ.-Prof. Thomas Münzel, director at the Center for Cardiology of the University Medical Center Mainz and co-author of the study.

The researchers examined the relationship between exposure to pollutants and the occurrence of diseases. The experts used an atmospheric chemical model to calculate the worldwide exposure to pollutants, which includes particulate matter and ozone in particular: They then combined the resulting exposure data with the Global Exposure - Mortality Model, which is based on epidemiological cohort studies.

This data was then used to calculate the effects of various sources of pollution. The researchers differentiated between emissions of natural origin, such as from forest fires or desert dust, and anthropogenic - that is, man-made - sources, such as the intensive use of fossil fuels.

Based on these results, the researchers then calculated a disease-specific death rate and the loss of life years in all countries of the world.

Fine dust favors vascular damage and thus diseases such as heart attacks

The study results show that premature mortality from air pollution is highest in East Asia and South Asia (35 percent and 32 percent), followed by Africa (eleven percent), Europe (nine percent), North and South America (six percent) . Australia has the lowest mortality rate at 1.5 percent - and also the strictest air quality standards.

"We understand more and more that fine dust primarily favors vascular damage and thus diseases such as heart attacks, strokes, cardiac arrhythmias and heart weakness," says Münzel.

"Therefore, we consider it extremely important that air pollution is taken very seriously as a cardiovascular risk factor and that the European Society of Cardiology's guidelines on the prevention of acute and chronic coronary syndrome and heart failure are sufficiently reflected," added the cardiologist.

Millions of deaths avoidable

According to the findings of the study, almost two-thirds of the deaths caused by air pollution, namely around 5.5 million per year, can generally be avoided because the majority of polluted air comes from the use of fossil fuels.

The researchers also estimate that the average life expectancy worldwide would increase by a little more than a year if the emissions from the use of fossil fuels would cease.

Researchers at Mainz University Medical Center and the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry published a similar study last year that dealt with the consequences of air pollution in Europe: According to this, almost 800,000 people in Europe die prematurely every year from diseases caused by air pollution caused. Polluted air shortens the lifespan of Europeans by an average of more than two years. (ad)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • University medicine of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz: Air pollution is one of the world's leading health risks, (accessed: 03.03.2020), University medicine of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz
  • Jos Lelieveld, Andrea Pozzer, Ulrich Pöschl, Mohammed Fnais, Andy Haines, Thomas Münzel: Loss of life expectancy from air pollution compared to other risk factors: a worldwide perspective; in: Cardiovascular Research, (published: 03.03.2020), Cardiovascular Research

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