Effects on the brain: Millions of babies suffer from massive air pollution

17 million babies worldwide breathe extremely dirty air

According to a report by the UN children's aid organization UNICEF, around 17 million babies worldwide live in areas with massive air pollution. The inhaled pollutants not only damage the lungs of the children, but also have negative effects on the brain.

High air pollution especially in parts of Asia

Worldwide, almost 17 million babies under the age of one live in regions where air pollution is at least six times higher than internationally defined standards. This emerges from the new report "Danger in the air: How air pollution can affect brain development in young children" by the UN children's aid organization UNICEF. More than three quarters of these small children - 12.2 million - live in South Asia and 4.3 million in East Asia and the Pacific region.

Fine dust pollution endangers health

Air pollution is generally associated with a high health risk.

It is known that the inhaled tiny dust particles damage the lungs and significantly increase the risk of cancer, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

Various studies have shown that high levels of particulate matter significantly increase the risk of cardiovescular events such as heart attacks or strokes.

As the UNICEF report has shown, the inhaled particulate matter in babies can also damage brain tissue and affect cognitive development.

Long-term damage

"These pollutants not only endanger the development of the lungs of babies, they can also cause long-term damage to their brains - and therefore their future," said UNICEF Director Anthony Lake in a message.

As the experts write, the "ultrafine particulate matter is so small that it can enter the bloodstream, migrate to the brain and damage the blood-brain barrier, which can lead to inflammation."

Some particles can also enter the body via the intestine and cause neurodegenerative diseases.

And other types, like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), can, according to UNICEF, "damage areas in the brain that are important for neuron communication, the basis for children's learning and development."

A small child's brain is particularly at risk

"The brain of a small child is particularly at risk because it can be damaged by a lower dose of toxic chemicals compared to an adult brain," the experts write.

And: "Children are also very susceptible to air pollution because they breathe faster and because their physical defenses and immune systems are not fully developed."

Above all, UNICEF called on the hardest hit countries to act with more commitment to air pollution.

"No child should breathe dangerously polluted air - and no society can afford to ignore air pollution," said Lake. (ad)

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