You and Your Health

The impact of air quality on life expectancy and health is unequal, with the young, the old and those with pre-existing heart and lung conditions the most affected. Individuals who are particularly sensitive and exposed to the highest levels of pollution could have an estimated reduction in life expectancy of as much as nine years.

A key message from leading heart and lung doctors as well as environmental health experts is that small reductions in pollution would lead to huge health gains. Overall, the bad effects of poor air quality mean that it has a bigger impact on the average life expectancy of the population than road traffic accidents or passive smoking.

In 2010, the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee concluded that “poor air quality probably causes more mortality and morbidity than passive smoking, road traffic accidents or obesity”.

Nationally “poor air quality reduces the life expectancy of everyone in the UK by an average of seven to eight months and up to 50,000 people a year may die prematurely because of it”.

Medical conditions affected by poor air quality are of increasing concern to health professionals. Existing respiratory and cardiovascular conditions may be made worse by poor air quality. Some air pollutants are potentially carcinogenic. Poor air quality can arise from emissions form industry, other sources and especially from traffic. Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) have been declared in all four South Yorkshire local authorities, due to traffic emissions causing poor air quality.

These concerns where further reinforced by the influential Marmot Report – Fair Society, Healthy Lives (Institute of health equity 2010) which considered the wider determinants of health and their effect on widening health inequalities. A key objective of the Marmot review is to “create and develop sustainable places and communities”.

Care4air has a major role to play in promoting the health and environment agenda in such places and communities by raising awareness of what individuals, local communities and businesses can do to improve local air quality (and reduce carbon emissions).

It is recognised across South Yorkshire that emissions can contribute to a wide range of health conditions.

In Barnsley, the 2011 annual report by the Director of Pubic Health (A call for Action NHS Barnsley 2011) illustrated the extent of just one such condition “ respiratory illness” – the third most common cause of deaths in the borough accounting for 16% of all deaths between 2007 -2009.

In Rotherham the 2011 Director of Public Health’s Annual Report highlighted that 1 in 7 deaths are due to respiratory diseases such as bronchitis and pneumonia. Locally we need to prioritise policies and interventions which reduce inequalities and lessen climate change, supporting the development and implementation of the Rotherham environment and climate change strategy, waste strategy and concentrating efforts on active travel and environmental design.

Doncaster’s Director of Public Health’s annual report states that “Deaths from respiratory disease remain very high in Doncaster compared to other areas. Deaths from respiratory disease account for around 7.4% of premature (under 75) deaths in men and 9.3% in women (2006-10); if all deaths are counted then respiratory disease accounts for 10.1% of all deaths in men and 8.9% in women.” It is worth noting that unlike the other main causes of mortality (Circulatory disease and Cancer) the rate is falling much more slowly than nationally and so the gap is widening.

Finally in Sheffield ‘poor air quality impacts on the most vulnerable especially children, the elderly and those who already have health problems. Elevated air pollution accounts for between 350-500 deaths in Sheffield.’

We can all help to improve our own health and help minimise air pollution by leaving the car at home and getting active by walking or cycling to work, school or to leisure activities.  Care4air can you help you to do this!

You can also find out more about air quality in Sheffield by looking at the website of the local community organisation East End Quality of Life Initiative at


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