Children and Air Quality in Asia

In October 2016, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) published the report “Clear the Air for Children” exposing the magnitude of the danger that air pollution poses for children.

The report shows that, in Asia alone, 300 million children live in areas with toxic levels of outdoor air pollution six times greater than the WHO set standard of 10m/m3 with 1.22 billion children in Asia living in areas that simply exceed WHO standards. Even more alarming, is that these estimates only account for exposure to outdoor air and do not include indoor air pollution. Moreover, UNICEF estimates that every year 600,000 children under-five years old die from diseases caused or aggravated by air pollution and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says these estimates could be 50% higher by 2050.

The reason children have a higher exposure when compared to adults is because they breathe twice as fast and their air intake volume is more relative to their body weight. They are vulnerable and exposed to air pollution before they are even born by changes in the placental function.  Air pollution can harm their bodies by affecting their developing organs, particularly their respiratory system and their brain. It has also been shown that air pollution can cause cognitive and physical development delays.  These negative effects are carried over into their adulthood. Studies have shown that children living in highly polluted areas can have reduced lung capacity by up to 20% and are more likely to have respiratory problems either in childhood or later in life.

In Asia, the situation is bleak. Emissions from factories and vehicles are high and with poor regulation, waste is often burnt, energy is mostly coal-fueled and many households burn biomass for cooking. All combined, the outdoor and indoor air quality tends to be among the worst across the world.

UNICEF comes to four conclusions to protect children from air pollution:
  1. Increase efforts to reduce air pollution and therefore reduce disease caused by air pollution as well as reduce the threat to children’s health and development. This includes better management of energy generation, waste management, public transportation, technology on vehicle and factory emissions and naturally more information and knowledge.
  2. Minimize children’s exposure at home, in schools and in those areas where they spend most time.
  3. Improve children’s overall health to reduce health complications from exposure to air pollution.
  4. Improve monitoring of air pollution and its link with children’s health.
What can individuals and families do?
  • Ensure good ventilation;
  • Clean cook stoves;
  • Prevent exposure to tobacco smoke;
  • Increase knowledge on how to protect themselves; and,
  • Better monitor air pollution to better understand time and characteristics of risk.
More air quality monitoring, and more knowledge on air pollution is essential to protect our children!


NIHIn Utero Fine Particle Air Pollution and Placental Expression of Genes in the Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor Signaling Pathway: An ENVIRONAGE Birth Cohort Study.

Are you pregnant? We’ve got you covered! Tips to protect your bump from Air Pollution

Air pollution is ubiquitous and our desire to have offspring is natural….well at least for some of us! Today we want to bring to you a few facts on what is known about exposure to air pollution during pregnancy for you and your bump.  Here are some useful and easy to follow safety tips.

Let’s start with the facts:

Research has shown that prenatal exposure to pollutants can increase the risk of low birth weight and preterm delivery, which contributes to infant mortality and developmental disabilities. We are usually concerned about outdoor air pollution: ozone, particulate matter etc but other pollutants of concern that we should always keep in mind are those mostly present indoors, such as household cleaners, fumes from paint and carbon monoxide in addition to particulate matter that is present indoors.

Some research has shown that particulate matter affects the fetal development because it alters the intrauterine environment. This ‘early-life’ stress is a contributor to conditions that will increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, cognitive function, diabetes, obesity and problems in the nervous system later in life.

“Healthy pregnancies in women result in healthy children. Healthy children make healthy adults, societies and nations.” Dr Sherin Devaskar, Mattel Executive Endowed Chair of the department of pediatrics at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA


Breathe Life 2030 – Air Pollution and Pregnancy (pdf)

State of Global Air 2017

The University of Columbia, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) and the Health Effects Institute (HEI) recently published a special report on global exposure to air pollution and its effect on disease. The IHME is an independent health research center from the University of Washington and the HEI is a non-profit independent research organization that has, since 1980, been promoting / publishing  impartial science on the effects of air pollution.

The objective of this report is to build on the Global Burden of Disease Study (GBD), which is the most comprehensive study worldwide that describes causes of mortality, major diseases, injuries and other factors that are a risk to health in a national, regional and global perspective.  The latest publication by the GBD in 2015 reported that exposure to PM2.5 is the 5th biggest contributor to mortality and disease globally and accounts for 4.2 million deaths from heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, chronic lung disease and respiratory infections. Their recommendation is to continue tracking and analyzing pollution and PM2.5 in order to better understand how to reduce this burden on the health system and society as a whole.

The State of Global Air report highlights several important messages that we summarize here with some illustrative charts:

  • A number of institutions are researching air pollution and its effects on health. WHO estimated that, in 2012, 3 million people died from PM2.5 exposure, GBD says 4.2 million.While there may be discrepancies in the number based on methods of estimation and source of data, all research parties agree that the impact of PM2.5 is substantial and growing in importance.
  • The most affected regions are Asia and Africa, as seen in the chart here.
  • Since 2010, the number of deaths and disease due to PM 2.5 has been increasing rapidly. Interestingly in China, the change escalated between 1990 and 2010 and has now plateaued.
  • Bangladesh and India are experiencing the largest increase since 2010, in the order of 50%-60% increase in the 5 years to 2015.
  • Disparities among countries have also grown: less-polluted areas are now cleaner, whereas PM concentrations have increased in the most polluted areas. Some of these trends are shown in the chart here.
  • In 2015, long term exposure to PM2.5 contributed to 4.2 million deaths costing 103 million years of healthy life with 52% of this happening in China and India. The financial and social cost to society is huge.
  • Coal-burning by industry, power plants and home heating creates 40% of PM2.5 exposure as shown in the chart here.

This report is issued yearly building on the GBD reports and making available new data. The 2018 report expects to share successful stories from cities and countries across the world on how they have improved air quality and public health.

In the interim, the most important is to continue collecting data on air quality and making changes in your day-to-day lives to improve the air you breathe.

Air quality data helps us to understand trends and visualize potential solutions. blue aims to help users do just this and we are looking forward to launching our product in the market soon.

If you want to explore the data more in detail, change the comparative countries or just learn more, go to:

Source of information and graphics:
State of Global Air 2017. HEI, 2017. Data source: Global Burden of Disease Study 2015. IHME, 2016. (Accessed 02/27/2017).

Am I Exposed to Air Pollution?

But how is our exposure to air pollution measured?

The WHO model was developed together with the University of Bath, United Kingdom and is based on data from more than 3,000 locations with ground station monitors which represent about 40% of the world’s urban population. It also includes satellite measurements and air transport models to give an annual average exposure to particulate matter (PM2.5), which are the tiny particles that penetrate deep into the body and create the greatest harm.

Another source of air quality information that is commonly used across the world is the AirNow or AQICN Apps, Facebook and webpage. This information comes from the Environmental Protection Agencies of 600 major cities in 70 countries. The information from 9,000 stations is collected and reported on an hourly basis in real time. The readings are displayed in the EPA AQI standard index and only uses PM2.5 and PM10 readings.

Is this data accurate to assess my personal exposure?

Research has shown that population exposure from fixed-site monitors do not show a clear picture of daily exposure at the individual level. In fact when comparing personal exposure measurements and ambient monitoring, there are significant differences and some studies have shown that the major variance comes from accounting for air quality during commuting to and from work, school or play. A recent study by the Massachussetts Institute of Technology (MIT) suggests that data collected through mobile phone usage to determine ‘activity patterns’ (areas most transited by people) can be linked to the traditional static air quality monitoring to give a more precise measurement of exposure to air pollution.However, this will also depend on the number of air monitoring stations in the city where you live and how close they are to your area of commute or to the area where you work, how long you spend indoors and the quality of air indoors. All in all, the current system of air quality monitors provides useful information for policy matter and to have an indication of the general air quality, but it fails to provide any given individual with an accurate account of his own personal exposure to air pollution.

There is no doubt that the most useful measure of your personal exposure is a portable air quality monitor, that can give you personalised, real-time, accurate information of your own daily exposure accounting for the quality of the air indoors as well as the outdoor air you are exposed to in your daily routine.

Taking care of your health starts by owning the data of those environmental threats that can negatively affect your health.
This is why we at meo believe that we can make a difference in your life. 

In the meantime, get informed:

  • To know the annual PM2.5 levels in the city where you live visit:
  • To know hourly air quality values on US EPA AQI standard visit: or download the App
  • Look for local options to access data that better represents your personal exposure.

MIT News – Measuring exposure to pollution
WHO – WHO releases country estimates on air pollution exposure and health impact
AQICN – World-wide Air Quality Monitoring Data Coverage

TIPS: How To Protect Your Skin From Polluted Air

In Asia, air pollution is a daily fact, we tend to look at its level on a daily basis. Many decide not to exercise outdoor when pollution is high or simply to avoid going outdoors to protect their lungs. However, Particulate Matter accumulates in our pores throughout the day and we seldom worry about our skin exposure to air pollution.

In the past decades we have learnt a lot to protect our skin from the sun and its UV light. However, our skin is also vulnerable to air pollution and the public is slowly starting to acknowledge it. Protecting our skin is important because it is the barrier to keep organisms and detrimental chemicals out of our body. If the skin is damaged, we are more prone to allergies and reactions and diseases.

Since 1998, L’Oreal started to research the effect of air pollution on skin. The latest research was published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science and included results from Mexico and Shanghai. It was found that pollutants such as ozone, car exhaust and industrial gases all increase oxidized proteins, increase sebum production, deplete the skin of vitamin E – which prevents skin damage, and squalene – a lipid that protects the skin from moisture loss; moreover recently a link between pollution and pigmentation was also found. All these effects combined accelerate the appearance of fine lines, destroy collagen and elastin and increase the loss of elasticity.

Dr. Giuseppe Valacchi, an associate professor in physiology at the Department of Life Sciences and Biotechnology at the University of Ferrara in Italy said “It’s as if ozone were designed specifically to injure our skin”.

Similarly, Zoe Draelos, M.D., consulting professor of dermatology at Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, N.C. said “I do not think that a lot of people fully understand or appreciate the effects of the nanoparticles that are generated from either internal combustion engines, cigarette smoke or byproducts of industrial processes,”. She added, “The truth is that these can have a profound effect on the skin in terms of premature skin aging, and we as dermatologists need not only to be aware of their action but also appropriately advise our patients in how to best avoid them.”

How to protect your skin?

1. Follow a skincare routine on a daily basis
  • Wash your face with the right cleanser every night.
  • Use beneficial antioxidants: vitamin C and E on your skin. Many cosmetic brands have vitamin C and E products to use on your face skin, which will help repair the loss of elasticity.
  • Use skin barrier repair with a pollution control moisturizer.
2. Adopt a diet that helps skin care from within
  • Increase your intake of kelp, spirulina to help remove heavy metals
  • Increase antioxidants in your diet with berries, peppers, greens, sweet potatoes, carrots, nuts and seeds.
  • Increase consumption of live yoghurt and fermented products like kefir grains. This will help nutrient absorption and make toxin removal more efficie

Adopt healthy habits, protect your skin!