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Leadership & Society

HOW CAN WE IMPROVE CHILDHOOD ASTHMA?

Take a different route to school.

Leadership and societyLondon's air quality is continuously monitored at around 100 different locations across the city. Although there’s a reduction in the amount of most air pollutants, in some areas of the capital, levels continue to exceed national air quality objectives. 

Worryingly, the UK also has one of the highest records of asthma symptoms in children worldwide. 

At King’s College London, we’re working on a pioneering study to establish links between pollution and childhood asthma. The EXHALE programme (Exploration of Health and Lungs in the Environment), centred here at King’s, is the first project of its kind to investigate whether giving information to a high-risk group will encourage them to reduce their exposure to air pollutants. 

Led by Frank Kelly, Professor of Environmental Health and Deputy Director of the MRC (Medical Research Council)-PHE (Public Health England) Centre for Environment and Health at King's, the programme looks at whether or not traffic emissions inhibit lung growth and development in children.

To date, no other studies have looked at whether reducing exposure to traffic-related air pollution will impact positively on children’s respiratory health. 

The EXHALE study is also analysing data from the Low Emission Zone (LEZ) in London to see if lower traffic volumes in the city make a difference for young people to manage their asthma symptoms more effectively. 

The then-Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, introduced the LEZ in 2008 with the aim of improving air quality in London. If the EXHALE study can demonstrate that the LEZ results in better respiratory health for children in London, then other cities worldwide will have the concrete evidence they need to introduce similar zones. 

If the study is able to confirm firm links between pollution and asthma symptoms, then health planners globally will also have the necessary information to make more stringent restrictions on emissions.

We’ve already found  that, on average, 30% of children's daily exposure to traffic pollution in London takes place on the way to and from school. They can reduce this exposure by taking routes that avoid busy roads and other pollution hotspots. 

We’re also taking King’s out into the London community by engaging with school children in high-risk pollution areas. For instance, we’ve visited schools in the east London boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Hackney to run exciting educational sessions about air pollution, science and health for children aged eight to nine years. 

The work being carried out by the EXHALE programme is making a positive difference to children’s health, both in London and worldwide. 

Please support our research and help further improve their quality of life. 

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