Air pollution in London affecting old and young

. Photo: PA

A study published in the British Medical Journal has suggested that exposure to traffic pollution in London during pregnancy is linked to a low birth weight. A team led by Imperial College London looked at more than 540,000 births in Greater London between 2006 and 2010. Their analysis found higher levels of traffic-related air pollutants were associated with an increase of up to 6% in the chances of babies being born with a low birth weight.

The findings suggest that air pollution from road traffic in London is adversely affecting foetal growth. With the annual number of births projected to continue increasing in London, the absolute health burden will increase at the population level, unless air quality in London improves.

– Imperial College London research in BMJ

The study pointed to an improvement in air quality in Beijing during the 2008 Olympics as an example of what can be done to improve pollution levels.

Credit: PA

A second study, also involving Imperial College London, found that air pollution in the city can cancel out the benefits of exercise in older adults. It found that short-term exposure to traffic fumes greatly reduced the positive impact of walking on the heart and lungs. For this research, 119 volunteers aged over 60 walked for two hours in a quiet part of Hyde Park and also a busy section of Oxford Street. The study found that the Hyde Park walk was beneficial but the Oxford Street one didn't do much to improve the participant's health.

Air pollution contributes to around 40,000 premature deaths in the UK every year, and the extent of its damage to our cardiovascular health is becoming clearer all of the time. Exercise is crucial in reducing the risk of a heart attack or stroke, but it seems dangerous levels of air pollution could be erasing these benefits in older adults. When exercising it's best to avoid highly-polluted areas, swapping them for green spaces or even back streets where pollution is lower. This will ensure you can experience the full benefits of exercise.

– Simon Gillespie, British Heart Foundation

The study was published in The Lancet and funded by the British Heart Foundation.