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Compare lung sizes of Indian and US children, you’ll know who air pollution affects most

In 'Breathing Here Is Injurious To Your Health’, Jyoti Pande writes about why air pollution has become a public health emergency in India.

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By now it is clear that we’re headed straight into the vortex of a national public health emergency and that our children are the most deeply affected. 

Every day, I find new studies that validate this fact, such as the one in the Yale Global Health Review which says that Delhi’s children are the most vulnerable to the toxic effects of polluted air, resulting in decreased quality of life and increased mortality rates. 

Another study, led by pulmonologist Prof. S.K. Chhabra, former Director-Professor, Department of Pulmonary Medicine at Vallabhbhai Patel Chest Institute and current Head of Department, Pulmonary Sleep and Critical Care Medicine, Primus Super Speciality Hospital, provides powerful evidence that children growing up in the polluted environs of Delhi suffer from reduced lung growth, as compared to children growing up in developed countries. Accepted in the journal Indian Paediatrics in July 2016 and published in its September issue, the ICMR-funded study finds that while both Indian and US children have nearly the same lung size till the age of eight, when the lungs complete their normal physical growth, subsequent growth is different between the two countries: both boys and girls in India have lungs that are about 10 per cent smaller by the time they become adults.

Also read: Covid virus found on pollution particles, masks & social distancing a must, say govt experts 

Dr Chhabra tells me he wasn’t surprised by these findings when he conducted this study. ‘Air pollution retards lung growth in Delhi’s children. Even Indian adults have smaller lungs than their US counterparts. Smaller lungs mean poorer exercise capacity and greater vulnerability to respiratory symptoms and diseases. In fact, air pollution retards the overall growth of children,’ he says. 

The scariest report is a news story I read that correlates air quality to patient admissions and quotes pulmonologists and paediatric chest specialists recommending that people leave Delhi. Data from the Vallabhbhai Patel Chest Institute shows that the number of patients admitted in its respiratory wards increased by almost 80 per cent in the 10 years between 2003–04 and 2013–14. 

‘What is most worrying is that 10 to 15 years ago, when air pollution levels had come down, our average OPD attendance and admissions in respiratory medicine at AIIMS saw about a 20 per cent decline.We seem to have lost out on our own achievements. As pollution levels have gone up, our public health success has been reversed,’ the report quotes Dr Randeep Guleria, the then head of respiratory medicine at AIIMS, as saying. 

Later, when I interview Dr Guleria, he will also tell me that children are more vulnerable not just because they respire at a faster rate but also because they play outdoors much more and thus their overall exposure to pollutants is higher. ‘Additionally, in children you have a lung that is still growing, evolving…so exposure [to polluted air] hampers the growth of lungs,’ he says, referring to Indian and global studies that show that children growing up in areas where pollution levels are high have stunted growth and lower lung capacity. He also suggests that air pollution may be playing a role in ‘recurrent chest infections in children, predisposing them to weaker lungs and higher chances of chronic bronchitis and respiratory problems later in life’. 

In June 2017, AIIMS will begin an ICMR-funded study that will go on to show that there is a high onset of respiratory symptoms leading to increased morbidity and mortality even with short-term exposure to air pollution.

Also read: Pollution, climate change, malnutrition will affect our kids for life, Lancet report says

Practically every day I find myself spotting new research linking air pollution to health harm. Studies link air pollution to Alzheimer’s, dementia, depression, obesity, arthritis, breast cancer – the list is endless. I wonder why others can’t see this menace, and then remember that I too was blind to it until three years ago. 

At CFA, the path before us was clear. It all boiled down to the question of how we could better link air pollution to disease, disability and death in order to appeal to the larger public consciousness. As a group, it occurred to us that if CFA couldn’t do more, perhaps the best way forward was to document what we had accomplished so far so that others could build on our work. At our next meeting, one of us suggests that we archive our work in an easy-to-understand video, as spreading our knowledge base visually would make it more accessible. 

It is January and team CFA is sitting in the garden of yet another, smaller rental that my family has recently had to move into, discussing how we can push ahead on awareness and advocacy. This house has lots of glass and light, and though the move here hasn’t been as traumatic as the last, it has had its share of tribulations. Owing to a bit of bad luck, I slipped and hurt my foot a couple of days before the packers arrived and had to hobble in a cast through the move. But in a bigger scare, an entire glass door in the new house disintegrated on my daughter in a freak accident, cutting her chest and wrist, scarily close to her ulnar vein, requiring several stitches in the middle of the night. 

Everything else remains the same around me, despite the new environment; our awareness about air pollution grows and deepens, even as frustration with the lack of resources builds up. 

This excerpt from ‘Breathing Here Is Injurious To Your Health: The Human Cost of Air Pollution and How You Can Be the Change’ by Jyoti Pande Lavakare has been published with permission from Hachette India.

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  1. Here the author, while narrating issues like air pollution, compared two different scenario namely India and first world countries. starting with India, the author gave almost all references related Delhi. But I must make her remind of the fact that India includes Delhi and India is not about only delhi. There are more places which are also important and strategic as delhi. Hence India can not be described only by describing a city delhi. I request the much known author to note the small idea in her mind that Delhi means India but India does not mean only Delhi. There are other places too.

  2. The author of this article must been to only Mumbai Delhi and other such metro. I will say that Bharat is much more bigger. Whole country isn’t suffering from what the author is describing. Misleading and one sided affair. Delhi got perfect government to tackle any situation like they are tackling this pandemic.

  3. The government and people of India should take this problem of pollution seriously, otherwise it will become more harmful . As we get daily updates on health research we found that there are more cases of cancer . “If we will not think about environment ,the environment will not think about us”means we should take care about our environment than only the environment will not harm us .

  4. Automobile has increased 100 times. U deserving people has vehicle and majority of people do not maintain the vehicle properly carbon emission are very high. They should bring rule to discard all old vehicles from road and every year the should make cc compulsory for FC passing for all catagory vehicle. Then we can improve air quality atleast by 10 to q5 percent.

  5. We should plant air purifying plants like snake plant,spider plant, areca palm in between dividers of national highways and that of roads. This small change can become very significant due to the thousands of kilometres of long highways .

  6. Leave Delhi and go where.
    My question is are other cities in India better off?
    The author has made a valid and important point. But the studies she refers to seem narrow in their scope and the conclusions motivate the study rather than the other way round.

  7. Leave Delhi and go where.
    My question is are other cities in India better off?
    The author has made a valid and important point. But the studies she refers to seem narrow in their scope and the conclusions motivate the study rather than the other way round.
    As a general rule, the details matter. Ignoring the details is tantamount to ignoring the problem. Or even worse, being led along an erroneous and futile path with no solution in sight.

  8. Your comparison of Lungs and Lun_s of different nationality is stupidity.
    Depends on genetic material also.
    Pollution is every where.
    There is inbuilt resistance in every individual
    Health issues have risen due to change in food habits.
    Burgers, fast food, Frankie’s , colas instead of desi food are responsible for modern ailments
    Health care (hospitals) providers attitudes have changed , they have become opportunists , ready to pounce on the benefits provided by relatives of sick .

  9. I wonder if government has any priority for making delhi a better place to live. We talk of it in winter and then authorities conveniently forget and no action is taken! Just sad that people’s life is less valuable in this country than playing dirty mind games!!!

  10. here we just learn about environment just on education level, only for crack the every environmetal examination ,bole to pad liya kam khatm,we have to do something for our environment, i think it is our duty for everybody ,we have to support our government

  11. here environment is necessary for reading on higher education, our youth just read ,and passed this exam no body wants to think about this ,we have to do something about environment we have to support our government ,

  12. As we know scientist say that this all occurs due to pollution but the one of the biggest problem is also that the people have to suffer from hunger and they can’t provides sufficient food or rich vitamin food to their children that can be a cause of lung disease

  13. Lung size has correlation with body size. Same as epiphyseal plate on Indian and American. I’m not saying pollution in new Delhi is not real but the correlation with American counterparts are rather stupid.
    Now crackers so apparently according to intellectual burning cracker for 3-4 days are so significant that it can detiorate the air quality but burning stubs, too many vehicles on road for months and years have become insignificant.

  14. Guys, please make make minimum donation amount to 100, students who want support you can carb just 100-200 whenever its possible out of our expenses and may be more people are ready to if lowered the minimum.

  15. The study does not mention if they have have considered normalizing for confounding variables. One is definitely average height, others being racial and genetic variables.

  16. I remember when I was young a little girl it was fun to travel to Delhi and stay with my aunt who had Tonga. (a carriage driven with the help of horse) it was fun and no pollution. I think since Delhi has its good local train system we should go back to old means…

  17. The number of cars has increased multiple times.Even the size of cars and fuel they consume has increased.
    Solution lies in giving no more permission for purchase of cars and developing mass public transport.
    Stubble burning must be stopped immediately.With increase in e-commerce packing materials usage has increased multiple times with no proper recycling mechanism.

  18. We need to change our mind sets about every god damn thing we are doing n which is entirely affecting our nature with which affecting our health …we fucking need to start working towards green revolution n stop hurting n exploiting nature for fucking god damn piece of paper (money).

  19. My relative she is suffering from asthma. Which has been a great but common problem in this country. I can see her position what she is suffering through!I dont want anyone else to get this. So,we have to change our lifestyle to stop all this…

  20. Those crackheads using crackers almost everyday need to be arrested. My neighbours use a lot of crackers, almost everyday and I hate it. The sound doesn’t let me do anything in peace and the fact that they are part of the problem in increasing pollution makes me want to punch them in the face. Seriously, there should be a law against using crackers everyday.

  21. Incorrect comparison.. Just to bring down Indian image. Even the ads on TV are sickening. The root causes of pollution must be addressed. Automobile companies must provide solution for Vehicular emissions. Airborne ppm reduction must be undertaken.. So many more things to be done

  22. The problem is implementation at ground level, at my home town my munipalty sweeper is like a dog tail!! impossible to understand that burning leave and waste on road is doing more harm than leaving it without cleaning!! We have many polite discussions, hard and literally fight with her but she is adamant to burning waste..and the most pathetic thing is that the neighbours outside whose house she burn those leave says nothing to her!! Its us who become bed people here….This even after complaining to munipalty…people here are the cause so I think they deserve this!!

  23. We’re a feudal society, where land is the most prized resource and not capital. Farming is therefore favoured by majority of population because of inherent laziness and inability to apply minds. A society which favors farmers over entrepreneurs is doomed to breathe in polluted air. And this is just a start, the horrors which await India is beyond imagination. Keep on mollycoddling farmers.

  24. Still some dumb-heads thinks that burning crackers won’t make a difference.
    Moreover, their stupid logics like “crackers are used everywhere”, “crackers are used of reality shows, tournaments, etc”, “last year XXX country/organisation burst XXX crore worth of crackers”, IGNORING the fact that those crackers produce 10x less smoke and much more expensive than what Poor’s of India use. (Just YouTube it idi**s).

    • Stubble burning constitutes more than 40% of Delhi’s pollution. What do you suggest for that?? What is the percentage contribution of Crackers (once in a year on Deepavali) on pollution level?? What is the contribution of fire crackers burning in other events like marriages etc throughout the year??
      What is the percentage contribution of vehicular pollution??
      Did you bother to research on these things?? Or just here to extract one piece of info and fit it into your anti hindu agenda??

  25. Does this study take into account;
    1. The average stature of an American is greater than and Indian?
    2. The higher rate of malnutrition/deficiencies in India?

  26. Now, We the Indian mindful Youth can do something for this… All other have almost failed to bring a positive change in the environment if it is deforestation, air pollution, one time use plastic, temperature rise. I request you all of you reading this comment please do something over it on your level if it is planting more trees 🌳, Use of cloth bags, not spreading garbage 🚮 anywhere, making people aware of such things 🌎🦾… Because it’s the matter of our life as well as upcoming generation… If we don’t do anything and keep blaming each other for different things, then that day is not so far when our children and we ourselves will curse past of us while using a oxygen cylinder…🌏🌍🌎

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