Air pollution is major cause of death than tobacco

One out of every eight deaths caused due to air pollution in India, making it a foremost risk factor for death in the country. This makes air pollution a bigger factor to the disease burden than tobacco, according to study.

In 2017, over 12 lakh deaths occurred due to air pollution, primarily through lower respiratory infections, chronic obstructive lung disease, heart attacks, stroke, diabetes and lung cancer.  According to study published in Lancet Planetary Health journal, the burden due to air pollution includes 6.7 lakh deaths due to outdoor particulate matter (PM) air pollution and 4.8 lakh deaths due to household air pollution, in comparison, to the deaths occurred due to tobacco use that are 10 lakh every year.

Disease attributable to air pollution on the rise

Both air pollution and tobacco are the contributors for heart disease, respiratory diseases and diabetes. Therefore the study assessed disease burden attributable to air pollution and compared it with that of tobacco use for the diseases that result due to both risk factors. It was found that disease burden attributable to air pollution was much higher for lower respiratory infections than tobacco use. As well as for  diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, lung cancer and cataract, the burden attributable to air pollution was as high as that attributable to tobacco use.

“Although air pollution is commonly thought to be associated with lung disease, a substantial 38% of the disease prevalence due to air pollution in India is from cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Increasing air pollution in india will enhance the disease burden such as ischaemic heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lung cancer, which are commonly associated with smoking,” the study pointed out.

Life expectancy

77% of Indian population is exposed to outdoor air pollution levels above the National Ambient Air Quality Standards safe limit, with the northern states having particularly high levels. The average life expectancy in India would have been higher if the air pollution level were less than the minimal levels. The country has one of the highest annual average ambient PM2·5 exposure levels in the world. In 2017, all the states in India had an annual population-weighted ambient PM2·5 greater than the WHO recommended level.. The highest PM2.5 exposure level state was Delhi, followed by Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Haryana.

The study has been conducted as part of the India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative, which is joint project of the Indian Council of Medical Research, Public Health Foundation of India, and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).

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