How clean the air is matters to your health. Increasing public awareness of air pollution and the burden of disease that it imposes on individuals, families, and society is an essential step toward making the changes that will improve public health.
Air pollution is linked to illness and early deaths
Decades of research conducted in cities around the world show that, on days when air pollution levels increase, death rates increase as well. Research also shows that people who live in more polluted locations are more likely to seek treatment in hospitals and to die earlier from heart and lung disease, strokes, and lung cancer than people living in areas with lower levels of pollution.
Individuals bear a personal burden from the emotional, physical, and economic challenges of living with disease and disability. Families and society bear the collective burden of disease through caring for sick people and from having less time to spend with their families and to participate in the workforce and in society in general.
How do we measure the burden of disease?
Scientists measure the collective burden on society in two ways:
in the number of deaths in a given year that can be attributed (linked) to a particular cause, and
in disability adjusted life years, or DALYs, which are the years of life lost due to dying earlier than expected, plus the years lived with disability.
The measurement of DALYs has the advantage of accounting for the age at which death (or disability) occurs. This means that DALYs will be larger for young persons than for older persons, because young persons still have many years ahead of them (if all goes well), and those years are “lost” when they get sick or die young. In addition, DALYs account for differences in the relative severity of various health impacts.
When expressed as age-standardized rates for a given number of people (for example, the number of deaths or DALYs per 100,000 people), burden estimates can now be compared directly among countries whose population sizes and age structures differ substantially. Please refer to the Glossary for more information.
You can explore global patterns and trends in the numbers and rates of deaths and DALYs related to both fine particulate matter (particulate matter ≤ than 2.5 micrometers in aerodynamic diameter, or PM2.5) and ozone using the interactive tools in Explore the Data. Compare results among individual countries and regional groupings. See the How To page for more detailed instructions.