Humans are missing out on almost three years of life expectancy because of outdoor air pollution, researchers have warned.
The study claimed more than a year of life expectancy could be clawed back if fossil fuel emissions are cut to zero.
If all controllable air pollution is cut, global life expectancy could rise by more than 20 months.
Prof Jos Lelieveld, of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, said the loss of life expectancy from air pollution is much higher than many other risk factors, and even higher than smoking.
The study draws on a recently developed model of the impact of fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5, on the body as well as a model for the impact of ozone, levels of exposure to these pollutants, and population and mortality figures for 2015.
|Risk factor||Lost life|
|Outdoor air pollution||2.9 years|
|Tobacco smoking||2.2 years|
|Diseases spread by parasites|
‘and other vectors’
|Source: Max Planck Institute|
From this data, the team calculated the proportion of early deaths that could be attributed to outdoor air pollution across six categories, including unspecified non-communicable diseases – a category that encompasses conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
The results reveal that 2.9 years of life expectancy on average are lost because of outdoor air pollution – a bigger toll than tobacco smoking (2.2 years lost), violence (0.3 years lost), HIV/Aids (0.7 years lost) and diseases spread by parasites and other vectors (0.6 years lost).
Should avoidable outdoor air pollution be cut, more than 5.5 million early deaths globally could be avoided every year.
Coronary heart disease accounted for the largest number of extra deaths for any of the six categories, at almost 2.8 million a year worldwide, and made up more than 28% of the loss in life expectancy.
Deaths from lung cancer, chronic obstructive lung disease and lower respiratory infections together made up about 2.6 million early deaths from outdoor air pollution a year.
Prof Thomas Münzel, of the University Medical Centre Mainz in Germany and co-author of the study, said even though the lung is the primary target of air pollution, there will be a transmigration of particles into the bloodstream and into blood vessels, which causes inflammation and results in the build-up of plaque in the arteries.
The work is published in the journal Cardiovascular Research.