Air pollution - health impacts: summary research findings

This report presents a summary of the research findings from the evidence on health impacts of low-level air pollution in countries with levels of ambient concentrations comparable to Scotland.

4 Conclusion

This review explored the existing evidence on the health effects associated with low-level pollution in countries that have levels of ambient air pollution similar to Scotland. It also considered the inconclusive evidence from Scotland regarding the association of air pollution with cardiovascular disease, as well as the potential contributing factors to this variation.

The evidence from global studies and reviews consistently supports the association between air pollution and various health outcomes, including CVD, respiratory health, mortality, cancer, neonatal health, type-2 diabetes, ocular outcomes, primary care healthcare service use, cognition, and neurological health. The studies also highlight the association between air pollution and mental health, including self-harm, psychopathology, major depressive disorder, and cognitive impairments. Furthermore, air pollution contributes to the development and exacerbation of dementias and is associated with neurological diseases such as Parkinson's disease, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and nervous system disorders.

While the global evidence is robust, the specific evidence regarding air pollution and health outcomes in Scotland is limited and inconclusive. When specifically considering CVD, some studies in Scottish cohorts support the global consensus, showing associations between air pollution and CVD, while others did not find significant associations, possibly due to methodological limitations and challenges in adjusting for confounding factors. Further research in the Scottish context, considering multiple pollutants and addressing data limitations, is necessary to provide more conclusive insights into the relationship between air pollution and health outcomes in Scotland.

Overall, the Dominski review, three HEI reports and recent evidence identified and discussed in this review emphasis the broad range of impacts from air pollution and the necessity to mitigate the harmful health effects of air pollution, promoting public health and well-being. As these harmful effects have been extensively evidenced at concentrations below national and international air quality standards, effective policies and interventions are necessary to reduce air pollution levels. In addition, further research is needed to better understand the underlying mechanisms behind these impacts and, explore potential associations in specific health outcomes, allowing the development of prevention and targeted interventions populations, particularly those most vulnerable.



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