China and India together were responsible for half of the total global attributable deaths from air pollution in 2017, a new global study released Wednesday has revealed. Long-term exposure to outdoor and indoor air pollution is estimated to have contributed to nearly 5 million deaths in 2017, of which China and India reported 1.2 million deaths each. China’s “major regulatory reforms appear to be driving substantial reductions in PM2.5 exposure,” it notes.
The State Of Global Air report 2019, produced by the Boston-based Health Effects Institute (HEI), noted that air pollution collectively reduced life expectancy by 1 year and 8 months on average worldwide, rivalling that of smoking. “This means a child born today will die 20 months sooner, on average, than would be expected in the absence of air pollution,” the SOGA2019 noted.
Overall, ten countries with the highest mortality burden attributable to air pollution in 2017 were China (1.2 million), India (1.2 million), Pakistan (128,000), Indonesia (124,000), Bangladesh (123,000), Nigeria (114,000), the United States (108,000), Russia (99,000), Brazil (66,000), and the Philippines (64,000), the report states.
Across the world, air pollution is responsible for more deaths than many better-known risk factors such as malnutrition, alcohol use and physical inactivity, states the report. “Each year, more people die from air pollution-related disease than from road traffic injuries or malaria,” it said.
The life-expectancy estimate is a new feature in this year’s report. According to an analysis of the Global Burden of Disease (GDB) data from 2016, the report notes air pollution exposure collectively reduces life expectancy by 20 months on average worldwide. “When considered separately, exposure to ambient PM2.5 is responsible for just over 1 year, household air pollution is responsible for almost 9 months, and ozone is responsible for less than 1 month of life span lost,” it states.
In other words, a reduction in life expectancy on average by 1 year and 8 months globally is “a loss that ranks just below that related to smoking but above that related to unsafe drinking water and lung cancer.” This loss is not borne equally across all regions and countries.
Further, in 2017, exposure to PM2.5 was the third leading risk factor for type 2 diabetes deaths and disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), after high blood sugar and high body mass index. “While rates of diabetes have risen across all countries, the largest burdens are found in China and India, reflecting in part their large populations,” the report states.
Regional patterns of deaths attributable to household air pollution reflect population size and proportion of each population using solid fuels, SOGA2019 states. “The largest numbers of deaths were in India (482,000) where 60% of the population cooks with solid fuels, followed by China (271,000) where 32% of the population does. Together, these two large countries accounted for about 46% of deaths and about 37% of DALYs attributable to household air pollution,” it noted.
Specific to China, the report notes that PM2.5 pollution has dropped markedly in recent years but remains higher than WHO’s least-stringent target. “In 2017, the GBD estimated that approximately 852,000 deaths were attributable to PM2.5 exposures in China. Ozone exposures have also remained largely untouched by the actions taken in China to date, and the GBD project attributed an additional 178,000 chronic respiratory disease-related deaths in China in 2017 to ozone,” it noted. “While China’s air pollution is still worse than that experienced on average across the globe, the remarkable improvements seen in recent years bring significant benefits to China’s population and underscore the potential for air quality management efforts to rapidly and substantially improve air quality both in China and around the world.”
The State of Global Air report is an annual report implemented by the HEI in cooperation with the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, University of British Columbia and University and Texas.