Sir Chris Whitty warns of increased dementia risk due to air pollution
08 December 2022
Launching a report on air pollution, England’s Chief Medical Officer Sir Chris Whitty, has warned of the growing body of evidence linking poor air quality and an increased risk of developing dementia in later life.
Current evidence suggests this is because air pollution damages the heart, and therefore indirectly damages the brain through reduced blood supply. More research is needed to establish whether pollutants enter the brain directly.
Although there has been progress in tackling outdoor air pollution over the years, it still leads to the equivalent of 26,000 to 38,000 deaths a year in England, the report warns, along with health problems throughout life, from asthma in children to dementia in older people.
For more information, read our blog “Air pollution and brain health: Government can’t afford to drag its feet any longer”
Susan Mitchell, Head of Policy at Alzheimer’s Research UK, commented:
“We’re pleased to see the growing body of evidence linking air pollution to dementia risk highlighted in Chris Whitty’s Annual Report.
“Collectively, up to 40% of cases of dementia are linked to factors like diet, lack of exercise and air pollution, but while some of these things we can do something about, as individuals, there isn’t much we can do about the air we breathe. Senior figures like the Chief Medical Officer must lead from the front and support government-led interventions that can effectively reduce air pollution at scale. This is particularly important for those living in the poorest communities which we know are often exposed to the highest levels of air pollution.
“In October, the UK government missed its own deadline to publish updated environmental targets, we still don’t know when this will happen. Having new legal targets to reduce pollution levels would have put us on a path towards cleaner air, helping to reduce the number of people living with dementia in the future. The UK government can’t drag its feet any longer. This report must serve as a rallying cry to the government to implement both safe and achievable targets, in line with World Health Organisation guidelines, of 10 µg/m3 PM2.5 by 2030 at the latest.”