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Truth Behind the Headlines: 2.9 years of life expectancy on average are lost because of outdoor air pollution

The UK media reported on a global study that finds outdoor air pollution cuts three years from human lifespan (higher than that caused by smoking tobacco). 


The results in the study 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

Using our recommended five tips, Global Action Plan reviewed the study:


Questions to ask to get to the truth Our response
1. Does the article refer to a report to back up its claims? Yes, "Loss of life expectancy from air pollution compared to other risk factors: a worldwide perspective", published March 2020.
2. Who is behind the study it refers to? European Society of Cardiology - a non-profit knowledge-based professional association that facilitates the improvement and harmonisation of standards of diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular diseases.
3. How fantastical and radical is the claim that is being made? It is plausible that air pollution is one of the main global health risks that rivals that of tobacco smoking. However, comparisons between the two causes must be reviewed further. Additionally, comparisons to threats such as “violence” are quite ambiguous and difficult to monitor.
4. What geographical region does the claim refer to? Global (16 countries)
5. What is the sample size of the study?

The report did not measure a sample but was an estimated calculation using a dataset derived from 41 studies. The report used data modelling to calculate worldwide exposure to air pollution. This was then combined with estimated global exposure mortality modelling to gauge disease-specific excess deaths and loss of life expectancy.

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