9 out of 10 people worldwide breathe polluted air according to new data from WHO

1 May 2018        

Category: BHF Comment

We’re urging Government to adopt tougher air quality guidelines in response to newly released data from the World Health Organisation.

a picture showing the view down the river thames with a haze

Countries need to do more

Air pollution levels remain dangerously high in many parts of the world, including the UK, according to new data from the World Health Organization (WHO). The newly released figures show that 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants. And their updated estimations reveal an alarming death toll of 7 million people every year caused by ambient (outdoor) and household air pollution.

Public health crisis

The WHO recognizes that air pollution is a critical risk factor for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), causing an estimated one-quarter (24%) of all adult deaths from heart disease, 25% from stroke, 43% from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 29% from lung cancer.

BHF-funded research first identified that even short-term inhalation of elevated concentrations of particulate matter increases the risk of a heart attack occurring within just 24 hours of exposure. Further BHF-funded research has found that particles in diesel exhausts exacerbate the disease atherosclerosis – the furring of the arteries - which can go on to cause heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular conditions. 

Urgent action needed

Simon Gillespie, our Chief Executive, said:

“These figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO) show that as a country we still have a long way to go in the fight against air pollution, with several UK cities exceeding the air quality standards needed to protect health.

“We know there is a strong link between poor air quality and heart health with almost six in ten global deaths (58%) related to outdoor air pollution caused by a heart attack or stroke. Our research has shown that air pollution, particularly from small particles in diesel fumes, increases the risk of these potentially deadly occurrences therefore it’s vital that the Government takes immediate action in order to tackle this urgent public health crisis,

“The UK Government needs to show leadership by adopting WHO air quality guidelines into national legislation and in doing so, help to protect the nation’s heart and circulatory health.”

Find out more about our latest air pollution research breakthroughs