Why are Children More Susceptible to Air Pollution Than Adults?
In many health effects research studies, children are considered as if they were small adults. This is not really true. There are many differences between children and adults in the ways that they respond to air pollution. For example, children take in more air per unit body weight at a given level of exertion than do adults. When a child is exercising at maximum levels, such as during a soccer game or other sports event, they may take in 20 percent to 50 percent more air and more air pollution than would an adult in comparable activity.
Another important difference is that children do not necessarily respond to air pollution in the same way as adults. Adults exposed to low levels of the pollutant ozone will experience symptoms such as coughing, soreness in their chests, sore throats, and sometimes headaches. Children, on the other hand, may not feel the same symptoms, or at least they do not acknowledge them when asked by researchers. It is currently not known if children actually do not feel the symptoms or if they ignore them while preoccupied with play activities.
This probably does not mean that children are less sensitive to air pollution than adults. There are several good studies that show children to have losses in lung functions even when they don’t cough or feel discomfort. This is important because symptoms are often warning signals and can be used to trigger protective behavior. Children may not perceive these warning signals and might not reduce their activities on smoggy days. Children also spend more time outside than adults. The average adult, except for those who work mostly outdoors, spends most of their time indoors at home, work, or even at the gym. Children spend more time outside, and are often outdoors during periods when air pollution is at its highest.