A recent study by Journal of Indian Pediatrics shows that the children in Delhi are growing up with smaller lungs compared to the children of developed world. Children’s Day comes with a grim reminder of growing health risk from worsening environmental risks, especially air pollution.

Smaller lungs mean poorer exercise capacity and greater vulnerability to respiratory symptoms and diseases. This is scary knowing that 40 per cent of urban children live in cities.

As per the study in Delhi, children are at high risk group. The study provides powerful evidences that show children growing up in polluted environments of Delhi have reduced lung growth compared to the children in developed countries like the US.

“Indian children have slower growth of lungs and reach a final size that is lower than that of Caucasian White children in the US. While both Indian and US children have nearly the same size till the age of about 8 years when the lungs complete their normal physical growth, subsequent growth show progressively difference between the two countries. Both boys and girls have lungs that are about 10 per cent smaller when they become adults in India,” reveals the report shared by Centre of Science and Enivornment (CSE).

This study has been done by Prof SK Chhabra, former Director-Professor at Vallabhbhai Patel Chest Institute and now Head of Department of Pulmonary Medicine, Primus Hospital in New Delhi. The study highlights that air quality and childhood infections influence lung growth besides genetic factors. “Air pollution retards lung growth in Delhi’s children. Even Indian adults have smaller lungs than their US counterparts.

“If this does not wake us up to the health emergency, what will? Those who are in denial of environmental pollution-related deaths and illness in India should understand that the scary death tally and illness of Indians and children makes a mockery of India’s growth story. India will have to do drastically a lot more to reduce pollution exposure and not less of it. It will be criminal not to act on the mounting health evidences and ask for more evidences from our own children, elderly and vulnerable. Indian lung is not different from others,” says Anumita Roychowdhury, Executive Director, research and Advocacy, CSE.

Simultaneously the report of the Lancet Commission on Health and Pollution shows some 9 million deaths occur each year worldwide due to air, water and chemical exposures. Air pollution is at the top of the list, with outdoor and indoor air pollution contributing the lion’s share, some 6 million deaths. India remains one of the worst affected where 1.9 million premature deaths occur due to outdoor and indoor air pollution.

The study shows that diseases that are worst affected by air pollution including cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases (COPD), and cancers have shown dramatic increase since 1990.