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Evaluating the long-term consequences of air pollution in early life: Geographical correlations between coal consumption in 1951/1952 and current mortality in England and Wales

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Objective: To evaluate associations between early life air pollution and subsequent mortality.

Design: Geographical study.

Setting: Local government districts within England and Wales.

Exposure: Routinely collected geographical data on the use of coal and related solid fuels in 1951–1952 were used as an index of air pollution.

Main outcome measures: We evaluated the relationship between these data and both all-cause and disease-specific mortality among men and women aged 35–74 years in local government districts between 1993 and 2012.

Results: Domestic (household) coal consumption had the most powerful associations with mortality. There were strong correlations between domestic coal use and all-cause mortality (relative risk per SD increase in fuel use 1.124, 95% CI 1.123 to 1.126), and respiratory (1.238, 95% CI 1.234 to 1.242), cardiovascular (1.138, 95% CI 1.136 to 1.140) and cancer mortality (1.073, 95% CI 1.071 to 1.075). These effects persisted after adjustment for socioeconomic indicators in 1951, current socioeconomic indicators and current pollution levels.

Conclusion: Coal was the major cause of pollution in the UK until the Clean Air Act of 1956 led to a rapid decline in consumption. These data suggest that coal-based pollution, experienced over 60 years ago in early life, affects human health now by increasing mortality from a wide variety of diseases.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere018231
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 27 Apr 2018


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