Rising risk of heart disease caused by air pollution - report

  • Date

    Wed 29 May 24

White smoke coming out of an industrial chimney

A global report has revealed millions of deaths from heart disease could be prevented if governments introduce legislation to tackle air pollution.

The 2024 World Heart Report, which was co-led by researchers from Essex’s Institute of Public Health and Wellbeing (IPHW), shows deaths from cardiovascular conditions caused by air pollution have been rising for a decade and will continue to rise.

The report, which was launched at the World Heart Summit, describes air pollution as “the greatest single environmental health risk” contributing to illnesses including diabetes, obesity and strokes.

The study found that air quality levels have barely improved despite a range of measures recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO), leading to as many as 1.9 million dying every year from heart disease and just under a million from strokes due to outdoor air pollution alone.

Essex researchers worked in partnership with the World Heart Federation on the report.

Together, they recommend urgent action and targeted investment by governments, health and environment decision-makers, and urban planners.

Professor Mariachiara Di Cesare, Director of the IPHW and one of the co-authors, explained how better data is critical to preventing deaths in the future.

“There is a global effort to collate and maximise the use of air pollution data, with many countries sharing the information they hold with organisations such as the WHO.

“However, the reality is that there is a real lack of reliable and granular data, mostly due to the absence of ground monitoring systems. This is especially true in low-income settings where millions of people live in unmonitored areas.

“When you look at Africa, out of 54 African countries, only 24 have the capacity to monitor air quality in some capacity, with most of the existing stations concentrated in the western and southern regions of the continent.”

Professor Di Cesare claims this gap in the data means the level of risk could be even higher than reported. She urges governments to improve air pollution monitoring and modelling where there are gaps and calls for additional studies into the effects of household air pollution.

Dr Mark Miller, Chair of the World Heart Federation’s Air Pollution and Climate Change Expert Group, added: “Air pollution is ubiquitous, sparing no one. Both outdoor and indoor pollution are driving deaths from cardiovascular disease which still claims the most lives every year. The impacts of air pollution from several sources add up, often widening gaps in healthcare for those also vulnerable to pollution, and worsening outcomes regardless of demographic.