Driving children to school can expose them to higher levels of pollution Image: Global Action Plan

Air pollution is associated with reduced lung growth, asthma and pneumonia

Primary and nursery school children are exposed to 30% more pollution than adults when walking along busy roads. This is according to research by Global Action Plan.

This research found that pollution levels from petrol and diesel vehicles were 2.5 times lower for children walking along quiet roads.

For those 50% of children being driven to school, the situation is in fact worse. They are exposed to double the pollution inside a vehicle compared to those walking on busy streets.

Chris Large, Senior Partner, Global Action, said:

“Global Action Plan’s research found that the millions of children in the UK that are walking to school along busy roads are potentially being exposed to 30% more pollution than their parents.

“A simple solution for parents would be to choose quieter back routes to walk or cycle their children to school, away from the traffic, thereby reducing their exposure to unnecessarily high levels of damaging air pollution.”

40,000 early deaths each year are caused by the air we breathe

For the general population air pollution increases the risk of some serious illnesses, and can make existing conditions, like respiratory disorders, worse.

Professor Frank Kelly, Director of the Environmental Research Group at King’s College London, said:

“All of the organs in the body seem to be affected in some way by breathing in air pollution.”

Research has found that being exposed to air pollution for a long time is also bad for your heart and blood vessels. It is linked to a number of cardiovascular diseases in adults, such as furring of the arteries.

To reduce the pollution at the school gate, parents should be encouraged by the school to switch off their engines while waiting.

Local councils can also help to make parents aware of the health risks. Schools can also hold special assemblies to make the children aware of pollution issues.

Larissa Lockwood, Head of Health, Global Action Plan, the charity behind Clean Air Day, said:

“We have seen local authorities do this, inviting teachers and pupils to a session on air pollution, and training them on our schools toolkit for them to take back and use in their school.”

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If the school is close to a busy road, or even a runway, is it still worth walking to school?

“Yes, walking will still make a difference as there is more pollution in the car than outside it. And of course there are other health benefits to walking, which include setting healthy habits for life.

“Also a lot of the traffic going to the school is likely to be parents, so imagine the difference if everyone walked who could do.”

John Bynorth, Glasgow, parent of two children, said:

“The results of this research are quite shocking really and something needs to be done about air pollution for the sake of our children. Children are too young to speak up about air pollution so the adults have got to do something about it now.”