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Study links Great Smog of London in 1952 to increased rates of asthma

Study links Great Smog of London in 1952 to increased rates of asthma

Researchers have looked into whether the 1952 Great Smog of London could still be affecting people’s health today.

The Great Smog was a 5-day long period of severe air pollution in London in December 1952. Thousands of people died, and many more became ill as a result of breathing in the smog. The first UK Clean Air Act was brought in in 1956 to try to prevent a similar situation happening again.

In this new study, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, scientists wanted to learn about the long-term health consequences of living through the smog, specifically with regards to asthma.

Researchers used 2,916 responses to a life history survey carried out as part of a wider study on ageing in England. Questions on whether a person had asthma as a child or an adult were part of the health section.

The scientists compared the answers from people who were exposed to the Great Smog, either as young children or while in the womb, with those who were born during the years 1945–1955 and lived outside of London or those who lived in London but were not exposed to the smog early in life.

They found that there was a 19.8% increase in the chance of having childhood asthma among those exposed to the smog in the first year of their life. This group also had a slightly higher chance of developing adult asthma later in life. A 7.9% increase in the likelihood of developing childhood asthma was also seen among people who were exposed to the smog while in the womb.

The authors of the study believe that these findings could also play out in other cities and countries with high levels of air pollution. They argue that governments need to do more to reduce air pollution in order to protect the health of children.

Read the full study

Picture: A scene at the Bank in the City of London, Leonard Bentley