A reduction in fine-particulate air pollution in the last few decades is credited with significantly increasing life expectancy in the United States, according to a report published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
"Although previous studies of air pollution have provided evidence that air pollution is a risk factor for respiratory and cardiovascular disease, this is the first study that provides direct empirical evidence that long-term reductions in air pollution contribute to significant, measurable increases in life expectancy," said Dr C. Arden Pope III, from Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.
The analysis found that for every decrease of 10 micrograms per cubic meter of particulate air pollution in a city, its residents' average life expectancy increased by more than seven months. Moreover, this improvement was largely unaffected by changes in demographic, socioeconomic or smoking variables.
Pope and colleagues observed gains in life expectancy even in cities that initially had relatively clean air but achieved further improvements in air quality, suggesting the continuing benefits to ongoing efforts to reduce air pollution, the researchers say. The data stems from an analysis of data on air pollution and life expectancy for 51 US metropolitan areas, comparing findings from the late 1970s to early 1980s with results from the late 1990s to 2000s.
Findings could influence where people choose to live
They estimate that up to 15% of the overall increase in life expectancy seen in the study areas during this period was due reductions in air pollution. "Not only do the results indicate that past reductions in air pollution have improved life expectancy, but they suggest that in most US cities (and in cities throughout the world) there are opportunities for further improvements in life expectancy due to continued reductions in air pollution," Pope said.
"This information," he added, "may have an influence on peoples' decisions regarding where to live and it likely will motivate support for continued public policy efforts to have cleaner healthier air to breath." – (Reuters Health, January 2009)
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