What is the current health burden from air pollution?

We set out to answer this important question as part of the Global Burden of Disease project. The Global Burden of Disease project estimated that, in 2016, breathing fine particulate matter in the air was responsible for about 4.1 million early deaths from heart disease and stroke, lung cancer, chronic lung diseases, and respiratory infections. In addition, breathing ozone in the air was estimated to contribute to 234,000 additional deaths due to its effect on chronic lung disease. Household air pollution contributed to about 2.6 million deaths worldwide. The combined burden from air pollution in all its forms was estimated to be about 6.1 million deaths.

Number of deaths attributable to household air pollution from solid fuels in 2016.

[Figure H, © HEI]

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How important is the burden of disease from air pollution?

We know that many other risk factors (such as poor diet, high blood pressure, and tobacco smoking) also contribute to the same diseases as air pollution and can cause people to die prematurely. Understanding how air pollution ranks relative to these other risk factors helps identify priorities for actions that could most improve public health. 

The Global Burden of Disease project found that exposure to ambient (outdoor) fine particulate matter was the 6th leading contributor globally to early deaths. Household air pollution followed closely behind as the 8th leading contributor to early deaths. Ozone was ranked 33rd. Air pollution defined by these three pollutants ranks as the 4th leading risk factor and accounts for about 11.2% of deaths globally.

Global ranking of risk factors for total deaths from all causes for all ages and both sexes in 2016. See all the risk factors ranked at the IHME/GBD Compare site.

[Figure I, © IHME]

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This health burden on people is not shared equally among countries and has changed over time (see Global Health Trends).