Babies in prams can be exposed to up to 60 per cent more pollution than their parents, causing potential damage to their frontal lobe and impacting on their brain development, a study has found. Researchers from the University of Surrey in the UK examined over 160 references to highlight the factors concerning the pollution exposure of babies in prams and associated mitigation strategies.
The study, published in the journal Environment International, also investigated different types of prams based on their height, width, and whether they seat one child or two to assess if this impacted on pollution exposure levels. They found that infants in prams breathe in more polluted air since they are positioned between 0.55m and 0.85m above ground level and vehicle exhaust pipes usually sit within 1m above road level.
This increases in-pram babies’ vulnerability to being exposed to more pollution than adults. The study suggests a range of mitigation actions, including ‘active’ solutions such as controlling emissions of road vehicles, and ‘passive’ actions such as roadside hedges between vehicles and pedestrians.
The researchers also suggested technological solutions that can help to create a clean air zone around the child’s breathing area as another effective mean. They concluded that a mixture of innovative technological solutions, community activism, and exposure-centric policies that encourage authorities to tackle traffic congestion are needed as they are seen to be the key to a lasting solution to the problem.
The review also notes other measures such as carpooling, using public transportation to reduce traffic levels, improving technologies, and community collaborations with industry could make a real difference to improving air quality for children.According to UNICEF, 17 million children across the world who are less than a year old live in regions where air pollution levels exceed World Health Organisation recommended guidelines. Children from poor economic backgrounds are most at risk of these dangerous levels of pollution because of a lack of nutrition, access to health care, and exposure to tobacco smoke.
“We know that infants breathe in higher amounts of airborne particles relative to their lung size and body weight compared to adults,” said Prashant Kumar, Founding Director of the Global Centre for Clean Air Research. “What we have proven here is that the height most children travel at while in a pram doubles the likelihood of negative impacts from air pollution when compared to an adult,” said Kumar.
“When you also consider how vulnerable they are because of their tissues, immune systems, and brain development at this early stage of their life, it is extremely worrying that they are being exposed to these dangerous levels of pollution,” he said.