Breathe Life

Children are up against it the moment they are born and for some children the air they breathe is killing them.

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health’s (RCPCH) report Every breath we take identifies that air pollution can compromise the cognitive development of children and adults.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that air pollution is the unseen threat to children’s health.

In their new edition of Inheriting a sustainable world: Atlas on children’s health and the environment they note,

As children grow, develop and move beyond their homes to explore the wider world, there is an unseen threat around them. It can stunt their cognitive development, reduce lung function, trigger asthma and set the stage for problems later in life from cardiovascular disease, stroke, chronic respiratory illnesses and cancers.

A companion report, Don’t pollute my future! The impact of the environment on children’s health, provides a comprehensive overview of the environment’s impact on children’s health, illustrating the scale of the challenge. It reports truly shocking statistics: every year 570 000 children under 5 years die from respiratory infections, such as pneumonia, attributable to indoor and outdoor air pollution, and second-hand smoke.

The WHO’s BreatheLife2030 campaign draws attention to the poor air quality that millions of people are subjected to and this video shows how children can be confronted with the dangers of air pollution just by walking home from school.


Incredibly only 1 in 10 people breathe safe air according to WHO guidelines and 80% of cities exceed safe limits for safe air quality.

Many children now wear protective masks not just moving to and from school but also at playtimes. Pollution is so bad in some areas that some schools have made the decision to not have an outdoor playtime in order to protect children.

Playtime should be the chance for children to get a breath of fresh air and let off some steam but the sad reality is that playtime for some children is making them ill.

Over 2,000 schools in England and Wales sit near roads with illegal and dangerous levels of emissions from diesel cars. If you want to find out whether your school is on the list then click here.

If you want to check the pollution levels for where you live then check the BBC’s site and type in your postcode.

If you think masks are going to help, think again as the BBC note,

Basic face-masks are not worth the hassle – these trap dust but little else, while heavy-duty versions are cumbersome.


See also my article for Teacher Toolkit Is ‘Pollution Play’ The New ‘Wet Play’? 

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