London’s Polluted Schools: the Social Context

19 September 2017

New research published today exposes serious equity issues in London: the capital’s most deprived children attend schools most affected by poor air quality, yet are likely to contribute least to traffic pollution at schools.

The report from Aether and commissioned by the FIA Foundation shows, for the first time, the combination of health factors facing children in the most polluted London schools, including social deprivation, obesity and lower levels of activity – a combination which is putting them at risk of major life-long health issues.  London’s Polluted Schools: the Social Context, calls for an integrated approach to policy development, acting on air quality alongside the broader social issues which impact children’s wellbeing.

One in five of London’s state schools is in an area of poor air quality. Children are more vulnerable to the health effects of air pollution than adults. The report exposes the compounding of the health effects of air pollution and obesity that are more likely to affect children from the most polluted schools in socially deprived areas. Children at these schools are more likely to walk there and less likely to use a car; they contribute the least to the poor air which they have to breath. Where these serious social justice and environmental issues intersect, it is children who are most at risk.

Key findings include:

  • Over 85% of the schools which are most affected by poor air quality have pupils from catchments which are more deprived than the London average.
  • 87% of secondary schools most affected by poor air quality had levels of obesity and excess weight which were greater than the London average for all schools.
  • 86% of primary schools affected by poor air quality have catchment areas with lower than the London average for car ownership.
  • Children at the schools with poorest air quality were found to be walking to school more than the London average.

The report also highlights the positive benefits of physical activity, such as walking and cycling to school; raises questions over the barriers to the long-term take-up of cycling; and calls for the use of Mayor of London’s school air quality audits to ensure that lower pollution routes to school are identified where possible. It also points to the urgent need for better data in all of the areas covered.

Commenting on the findings of the report, Saul Billingsley, Executive Director of the FIA Foundation, says: “There is growing evidence that children from some of London’s most socially-deprived areas are not only affected by unacceptable levels of air pollution around their schools, but they also face compounding health risks.

“In funding this research and raising awareness of these issues in London, we hope to stimulate action here and in other cities, to help tackle air pollution for the 2 billion children who live in areas where outdoor pollution exceeds international limits. Every child has the right to a safe and healthy journey to school.”

And he went on to say: “This report strengthens the argument for serious, coordinated, action across all agencies and authorities to tackle vehicle emissions at source, and to adopt a holistic approach to urban development and transport that emphasises healthy outcomes.”

London’s Polluted Schools: the Social Context is published ahead of a global conference taking place on International Walk to School Day on 4 October in London. The conference will highlight the huge and unacceptable global child health burden from motorised vehicles, and is part of the Global Initiative for Child Health and Mobility, a partnership led by the FIA Foundation. Speakers include mayors, policy leaders and NGOs from across the world.

Children from a primary school in London actively involved in pollution monitoring and mitigation will also be represented at the event.

Media contacts:

Rebecca Ashton 0207 747 5186/07894 129339

Becky Hadley 020 7808 7997/07733 054839

Notes to editors:

Poor air quality in London is a critical issue, responsible for an estimated 9,4001 deaths a year. Almost 400,000 children live in areas that exceed world guidelines on nitrogen dioxide.  Children are particularly vulnerable to air pollution: they breathe in more air per minute in relation to their size; their respiratory tracts are more vulnerable; and their brains are still developing2

The effects of air pollution can also have lifelong health implications, as air pollution can damage the development of a child’s lungs3 which carries through to adulthood2. Children who live in the most polluted areas are four times more likely to have reduced lung function as adults than those living in less polluted areas4.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has identified the lasting effects of air pollution on health through his own personal experience and is committed to combatting London’s urgent pollution problem.

About the FIA Foundation

The FIA Foundation is an independent UK registered charity which supports an international programme of activities promoting road safety, the environment and sustainable mobility. Their aim is to ensure ‘Safe, Clean, Fair and Green’ mobility for all, playing a part to ensure a sustainable future through:

  • promoting research, disseminating the results of research and providing information in any matters of public interest which include road safety, automobile technology, the protection and preservation of human life and public health, transport and public mobility and the protection of the environment;
  • and promoting improvement in the safety of motor sport, and of drivers, passengers, pedestrians and other road users which works globally to promote safe, clean fair and green mobility.

1 Walton H. et al., (2015) Understanding the Health Impacts of Air Pollution in London King’s College London.

2  UNICEF, (2016) Clear the Air for Children

3 Gehring U., et al. (2013) Air Pollution Exposure and Lung Function in Children: The ESCAPE Project. wp-content/uploads/121/11-12/ehp.1306770.pdf

4 RCP and RCPCH, (2016) Every Breath We Take:  The Lifelong Impact of Air Pollution outputs/every-breath-we-take-lifelong-impact-air-pollution

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