A recent study has likened city air pollution to smoking a pack of cigarettes each day for 29 years. While the effect on our lungs is undoubtedly troubling, we should also be wary of what the air we breathe is doing to the rest of our bodies.
The new study monitored ground-level ozone exposure in 7,000 adults living in cities across the US. Generally, urbanites were exposed to between 10 and 25 parts per billion of ozone, where an increase of three parts per billion equates to smoking an extra pack of cigarettes each day. So, even moving from a low-pollution area into one of the cleaner cities could still increase your risk of respiratory diseases like emphysema – which is more commonly associated with smokers.
You might also like:
The World Health Organization (WHO) now calls urban pollution levels a “public health emergency” because 91% of us live in areas where air pollution exceeds the agency’s guidelines. Right now, 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas. That figure is expected to rise to 68% by 2050, the United Nations estimates. If urban life is a serious concern for our health, mental wellbeing and outlook, then it is only going to become a greater issue for more of us as time passes.
Prevalence of psychiatric disorders is significantly higher among people living in urban areas, says a meta-analysis of 20 pieces of research conducted over the past 35 years. Specifically, people in cities suffer from mood disorders and anxiety at a disproportionately high rate.
Compare this to residents who have a sea view – for every 10% increase in the amount of ocean people can see, people’s scores on the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale decreased by one-third of a point. The researchers suggest that “a 20 to 30% increase in blue space visibility could shift someone from moderate distress into a lower category”.