What is the impact on your health?

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.

Numbers of deaths attributable to PM2.5 in 2016.

 [Figure G, © HEI]

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What is the “burden of disease”?

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:

  1. in the number of deaths in a given year that can be attributed (linked) to a particular cause, and
  2. 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, 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.

Scientists also like to study rates of deaths or of DALYs per a standard number of people (typically, 100,000). Such  rates are more useful for comparing whether people are falling ill or dying more frequently either among populations of different sizes or within the same population over time. When rates are age-standardized, burden estimates can then be compared directly among countries whose age structures as well as population sizes differ substantially. Please refer to the Glossary for more information on these measures of disease burden.

Learn more!

You can explore global patterns and trends in the numbers and rates of deaths and DALYs related to fine particulate matter, ozone, household air pollution, and total air pollution (fine particulate matter, ozone, and household air pollution combined) using the interactive tools in Explore the Data. Compare results among individual countries and  among regional, sociodemographic, and economic groupings. See the How To page for more detailed instructions.