by Anne Greenough, Professor of Neonatology and Clinical Respiratory Physiology, Director of Education and Training at King’s Health Partners Academic Health Science Centre. Anne is a member of the Indoor Air Quality Working Party and has been working to make the findings of the scientific review, published earlier this year, accessible to children, parents and health practitioners.
During Covid-19 lockdown and recovery, children in the UK are spending more time indoors. The health impact of the air within homes and schools, particularly on vulnerable children and young people, must be considered in households during lockdown, households shielding and as schools and daycare facilities are brought back into operation.
Earlier this year, the RCPCH and RCP published a report of the working party on indoor air quality and child health, The Inside Story: Health effects of indoor air quality on children and young people. The report was devised by a group of leading UK clean air health and built environment researchers, of which I was a member. Our conclusions are based on a systematic review of the science of indoor pollution alongside findings from a consultation with technical experts, children, young people and families. We found that improving indoor air quality helps to promote good respiratory health and can reduce the risk of respiratory infections. The report includes a comprehensive set of recommendations for Government, local authorities, health practitioners and their professional bodies as well as guidance for families.
We also found that health effects in children from exposure to pollutants and poor air quality indoors can include breathing problems, including atopic and early-onset asthma alongside a variety of other health effects including chest infections, low birth weight, pre-term birth, wheeze, allergies, eczema, skin problems, hyperactivity, inattention, difficulty sleeping and sore eyes.
Children, young people and families who had allergies, asthma or breathing problems told us that whilst they were more aware of the indoor air pollutants that could trigger or aggravate health conditions, they didn’t know about fixtures and fittings and the everyday products and activities inside the home that could cause indoor air pollution.
As a member of the group of scientists who reviewed the evidence and authored The Inside Story report, I felt it was important to find ways to share our findings with parents, clinicians and children. Over the summer, with funding from King’s Health Partners, I’ve been working with colleagues to produce information and resources to engage and involve children, parents, teachers and health professionals in understanding what we can do inside buildings for safer air indoors – the resources we are launching this week online www.theinsidestory.health include:
- Information sheets on safer air indoors for parents and health professionals
- Educational activity packs for children 9+ the individual worksheets available online for download for use at home and in schools and we have 250 packs available in printed form. These cover healthy air, hazard spotting, what can you measure (temperature and humidity), tips for avoiding, reducing and removing pollutants, ventilation and a home air scavenger hunt. These sheets include creative projects, checklists and also experiments for those with access to temperature and humidity sensors (supplied in physical packs).
- A competition for children. We’re looking for a poster about their favourite top tip on how to improve the air at home or a fact about why indoor air quality is important for child health. Three winning posters will be developed with our designers and indoor air scientists to form part of the Indoor Air Quality Working Party’s information campaign for Clean Air Day in October. Winners will receive an Amazon voucher and an Air Quality Monitor for their class to keep.
We must do all that we can to improve the air that children are breathing, indoors and out, and to reduce detrimental health impacts from exposure to pollutants and poor indoor air quality. I hope that our information sheets and educational worksheets will enable everyone to feel they can do something. They explain what the pollutants are, how they are being generated or brought indoors and what we can do t
- AVOID pollutants being generated or brought indoors
- REMOVE sources of pollutants with known health effects
- REDUCE exposure to pollutants with ventilation and, where possible, reduce pollutants at their source.
For children with respiratory allergies such as asthma, the Working Party recommends taking steps to reduce exposure to allergens such as house dust mites, moulds and pets to reduce symptoms and exacerbations.
The Inside Story report is dedicated to our late colleague Professor John Henderson, a member of the working party who sadly passed away in 2019. His work was important in underpinning the scientific knowledge of the different characteristics of asthma in early childhood and how genetics and environments influence their development. John established a programme of respiratory follow-up, including asthma through childhood, within the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents & Children, which underpins much of what we know about childhood Asthma in this country. It is vital that scientists and clinicians continue to investigate, understand and share their findings on how the environment, indoors and out, affects conditions such as asthma so that we can avoid and reduce negative health consequences for children.
The Indoor Air Quality Working Party are a group of indoor air quality and health experts working together to advance public understanding, equality of access and experience of healthier indoor air for children and other vulnerable groups within the wider population. Further information and resources by the working party will be published at www.theinsidestory.health .
The Indoor Air Quality Working Party contributing authors to RCPCH, RCP (2020) The Inside Story: Health effects of indoor air quality on children and young people publication are Professor Stephen Holgate, Professor Jonathan Grigg, Dr Benjamin Jones, Dr Marcella Ucci, Professor Paul Cullinan, Professor Anne Greenough, Ms Briony Turner, Professor Hasan Arshad, Professor Alan Short, Professor Sotiris Vardoulakis, Professor Tim Sharpe, Dr Mike Holland, Dr Nicola Carslaw, Dr Sani Dimitroulopoulou, Professor Paul Linden and the late Professor Alexander Henderson.