The Impact of Social Inequality on Childhood Exposure to Air Pollution: A Ministry of Health Study

2024-01-04 11:14:00

Not all children are exposed to pollution in the same way. Beyond the obvious geographical differences, the social origin of families plays a role in the disparities observed. Thus, children from the poorest and most privileged households are the most exposed to air pollution due to fine particles, observes a Ministry of Health studypublished this Thursday.

How can we explain such an observation? First, this pollution rate is concentrated in cities, spaces where the most privileged households most often live. These children are therefore logically more exposed to fine particles, points out the study by the Directorate of Research, Studies, Evaluation and Statistics (Drees). On the other hand, the pollution rate is also very high within “large urban areas”. The most polluted suburbs and municipalities are inhabited mainly by poorer households, researchers note.

According to the Drees, 10% of children experience most of the health effects detectable in the event of an increase in pollution… before their first birthday. Another observation: children from more modest backgrounds are over-represented when we look at hospitalizations for respiratory problems. 1.9% of the latter are admitted to hospital urgently for asthma before their third birthday, compared to 1.2% of the wealthiest, “i.e. a risk multiplied by 1.6”, points out the study. The risk of being urgently hospitalized for bronchiolitis before the age of two would even be “doubled for the poorest compared to the wealthiest”.

On the other hand, asthma medication deliveries from pharmacies are greater among the wealthiest households. But the consumption of medications can be interpreted differently, the report adds: either “as a marker of a respiratory pathology (…) but also as an indicator of the quality of its care”. Access to care is obviously made easier for the wealthiest households.

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A more fragile state of health among the poorest

Certainly, vulnerability to air pollution remains variable from one child to another, notes the study. “The children in the 10% most affected” by the level of particles “more often present an unfavorable state of health at birth,” insist the researchers. But the babies with an overall more fragile state of health are once again those from poorer homes. For example, they are more likely to be born prematurely or to have a lower birth weight, parameters favoring the appearance of respiratory diseases.

Ultimately, around 11,000 children under the age of three are urgently admitted to hospital for asthma each year. There are also 28,000 for bronchiolitis. For Dress, nearly 2,000 hospitalizations for bronchiolitis and 1,800 hospitalizations for asthma could be avoided by protecting “children under 1 year of age from around two weeks of significant increase in their exposure to the main atmospheric pollutants”.

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