The spectacular forest fires that occurred in North America and Europe this summer, coupled with heatwave episodes, significantly contributed to deteriorating air quality. A phenomenon that concerns populations, and particularly parents who have no idea of the measures to adopt to protect the health of their children, as revealed by a recent survey conducted in the United States.
Close doors and windows, wear a respiratory mask, avoid intense outdoor activities: the recommendations intended to protect yourself from the effects of air pollution are numerous, but are they sufficient at a time when said air pollution ambient air occurs more and more frequently. A new survey conducted by the CSMott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan, in the United States, among 2,044 parents of children aged 18 and under, highlights their concern about the deterioration of air quality and the impact that this phenomenon can have on the health of young people.
Anguish for parents
Nearly three-quarters of parents surveyed (73%) say they are concerned about the effects of air quality problems on their child’s health, and consider that it is mainly due to forest fires (81%). , heatwave episodes (42%) and seasonal changes (34%). Only 14% and 11% of respondents believe that high ozone levels and industrial pollution, respectively, are responsible for this poor air quality. When faced with it, parents say they put in place appropriate measures – and within their reach – to protect the most vulnerable, namely keeping windows closed (69%), limiting the time spent outside (68% ), avoid intense outdoor activities (47%), or ask children to wear a mask (11%). But more than one parent in ten (14%) also say they have taken no action, appearing helpless in the face of such a problem.
“Our report suggests that poor air quality is a common problem for families. Local news and weather reports can help parents assess the air quality in their community, but many don’t seem to know how to protect their child when air quality worsens“, confirms Susan Woolford, pediatrician at CSMott Children’s Hospital and co-director of the National Poll on Children’s Health, in a press release. And to specify: “Children’s organs are still developing, making them more susceptible to health risks from exposure to air polluted by wildfire smoke and other pollutants. It is therefore essential to take precautions to protect their well-being when the air is unhealthy“.
Playing indoor sports at school?
In search of solutions to preserve the health of children and adolescents, parents adapt to the rhythm of weather reports, but must also deal with the measures taken – or not – at school. As such, only a fifth of the panel (21%) say they know that their child’s school has a policy defining the precautions to take in the event of air pollution. However, more than six out of ten parents (61%) have absolutely no idea; which is not without increasing their concern in the event of atmospheric pollution.
When asked about the measures that schools should take in such circumstances, most parents (74%) believe that recess and physical education should be “moved” indoors, or even canceled altogether. sports and other outdoor activities (66%). A smaller proportion (45%) consider that each parent should be able to choose whether or not to let their child do sports or physical activities outdoors, while 27% of respondents submitted the idea of encouraging children to wear a mask. outside at school. Note that 8% of parents do not plan to take any action at school.
“Being outdoors is generally good for children’s physical and mental health, but parents should also consider the risks of exposure to pollution. When air quality problems are expected to be temporary, it may be warranted to move activities indoors or schedule outdoor events for early in the day, when air quality tends to improve. to avoid high levels of exposure“, underlines Susan Woolford.
Air pollution linked to more than 4 million premature deaths per year
But the pediatrician also suggests that political leaders implement broader preventive measures, at local and national levels, such as, for example, keeping heavy goods vehicles away from schools, or installing filters intended to improve air quality. in schools and nurseries. “Policymakers should consider the impact on babies and young children, particularly from long-term sources of pollution such as factories and refineries“, she says.
In 2022, the World Health Organization recalled that “Outdoor air pollution (was) a major environmental health problem that (affected) everyone in low-, middle-, and high-income countries“If we rely on the figures presented by the health authority, no less than 99% of the world’s population was “in places where the recommended thresholds (…) were not respected” in 2019. A phenomenon associated with more than 4 million premature deaths per year, largely due to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and cancers.