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Luton schools join research into the effect of air pollution on children’s health


Fri 8th June, 2018

A £2.5m groundbreaking study to look at the effect of air pollution on the lungs of school children in Luton and London was launched today jointly today by the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and the Mayor of Luton Naseem Ayub.

Over 3,000 primary school children will be assessed as part of international research collaboration including the University of Bedfordshire and Queen Mary University of London. Researchers will investigate whether pollution control measures such as London’s new Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) improve children’s lung growth and prevent damage to their health.

Researchers from the CHILL study (Children’s Health in London & Luton), funded by the National Institute for Health Research, are currently recruiting schools to take part. The study will test whether air pollution control measures improve children’s lung growth and prevent damage to their health.

Professor Gurch Randhawa from the University of Bedfordshire said: “We urgently need to know whether our public health policies on air pollution are effective. This timely study enables us to measure accurately their impact on children’s health.”

Children are especially vulnerable to traffic pollution. Air pollution stunts the growth of children’s lungs, leaving them at risk of lifelong breathing disorders and earlier death. Pollution also triggers asthma, asthma attacks and chest infections.

Luton has significant traffic congestion with areas of poor air quality. However the town is likely to see a fall in traffic pollution in coming years, as drivers across the UK switch away from buying and using diesel vehicles and local air quality initiatives take effect.

The study provides a unique opportunity for researchers to test the relationship between predicted falls in air pollution and children’s lung growth, numbers of chest infections and asthma attacks. The researchers will also find out if improving air quality leads to children taking more exercise.

Lesley Whittle, Head Teacher at the Linden Academy in Luton, one of the schools taking part in the study said: “We are delighted that the health of Luton children in relation to pollution is being so closely examined. Our Academy looks forward to contributing to this important study.”

The newly appointed Mayor of Luton Cllr Naseem Ayub said: “Air pollution is a major worry for parents in Luton. We’re delighted to be helping to answer this important question about our children’s health and development.”

Lead researcher Professor Chris Griffiths from Queen Mary University of London said: “Air pollution in UK towns and cities is a major health problem, and this study is the first in the world to test the impact of targeted pollution control measures on the long-term lung growth and health of children.

“Low emission zones are being promoted as the best way to tackle traffic pollution and are common across Europe. If ambitious enough they can improve air quality, but we don’t know whether they benefit health. This study will tell us whether this type of low emission zone improves children’s lung growth and development, and whether they should be implemented in towns and cities in the UK and globally.”

Professor Martin White, Director of the NIHR Public Health Research programme said: “NIHR funds research to evaluate major policies that may have an impact on population health. The London Ultra Low Emissions Zone is just such a policy and this research should help inform future action to tackle poor air quality.”

The CHILL collaboration brings together experts from five globally leading research centres - Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research, MRC and Asthma UK Centre in Allergic Mechanisms of Asthma, MRC PHE Centre in Environment and Health, Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR), Cambridge, and The Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California.

CHILL project

Note to editors:

  1. CHILL study researchers will compare the health of two large groups of primary school children (aged 6–9 years). 1,500 children will come from central London primary schools where the ULEZ will be implemented, and 1,500 children will come from primary schools in Luton, a large town close to London with a broadly similar population and air quality, which will be subject to both national and local air quality initiatives.
  2. The children will have an annual health check for four years that includes measuring the size and function of their lungs by blowing into a machine called a spirometer. With the family’s permission, the team will also check children’s health records to find out how often they’ve had respiratory infections, visited a GP or A&E, or been admitted to hospital for chest problems.
  3. The team will monitor accurately the air pollution to which each child has been exposed over the four years, including exposures to a range of key pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and particulates such as PM2.5 and PM10.
  4. * The ULEZ will initially cover London’s central Congestion Charging Zone, including parts of the boroughs of Camden, Islington, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Southwark, Lambeth and Westminster. Vehicles traveling within the zone must meet exhaust emission standards or, subject to exemptions, pay a daily charge to travel.

Bedfordshire University

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