Children can boost their mental and physical health by spending time outside, but with air pollution worsening near schools, local governments need to think of new solutions to ensure this time doesn’t do children more harm than good.
The average child spends at least six hours in front of a digital screen every day. Though fairly harmless in moderation, this reliance on smartphones and computers runs the risk of severely cutting into children’s outdoor time. Excessive “inside time” poses several serious developmental concerns for children. Too much time spent on electronic devices can mean a child is more prone to anxiety, underperformance in school, and high blood pressure.
To combat this problem, many doctors suggest spending time outside can improve a child’s performance in school and boost their mental and physical health. In fact, a new article penned by experts at Harvard Medical School argues that children who spend more time outdoors exhibit more creativity and problem-solving skills, have better social awareness, and are more comfortable taking risks than their indoors-inclined peers.
In response to these findings, local governments and schools have designed initiatives that encourage healthier outdoor habits, including school gardening programs and programs like the Green Hour Initiative, which encourages parents and teachers to set aside an hour of nature playtime for kids each day.
However, local governments, schools, and parents face a formidable foe in these efforts: air pollution. While we want our children to reap the benefits of being outdoors, encouraging them to spend more time breathing polluted air is certainly not the goal.
We're not going to solve the pollution problem overnight but access to real-time and hyperlocal air quality information can help us to limit children's exposure to harmful air quality in practical ways.
The Pollution Problem near Schools
Recent reports have found that more than 4.5 million children in the U.K. are growing up in areas with toxic levels of air pollution. Pollution is especially common in urban areas like London, where inhabitants are routinely exposed to air that exceeds the global guidelines for toxic particulate matter.
Unfortunately, schools and nurseries are often located right in the middle of polluted urban areas. Industry experts estimate that over 2,000 schools fall within 150 meters of roads with dangerous levels of air pollution in the United Kingdom alone. Compounding the problem, children are three times more likely to be affected by air pollution from roads since their height places them close to passing car exhaust. Additionally, half of all children in the U.K. walk to school and back every day, oftentimes along heavily polluted routes.
This is all a cause for concern, especially since children are more affected by pollutants like ozone and smog than adults since they breathe more air per minute due to their smaller lungs. Children with asthma — the most common long-term medical condition in the U.K. — are at greatest risk in these situations. Air pollution can drastically increase a child’s chances of suffering an asthma attack, and it can make individual attacks significantly more severe.
This level of air pollution near schools is a huge problem, not least because it impedes the initiatives that encourage children to spend time outside. Many local governments, schools, and parents are left scratching their heads as they try to think of solutions to get their kids outside while keeping them safe from pollution.
Access to Accurate Air Quality Data Can Empower Better Decisions
We can’t move our schools away from roads or pollution, but we can gain knowledge about local pollution levels and use it to better schedule our time outside. Several groups around the U.K. are already making progress toward this goal. The Clean Air Parents’ Network, for example, was put together by parents across the U.K. with the mission of promoting air pollution information.
Additionally, local governments in Scotland and Wales have partnered with the Global Action Plan charity and other local organizations to establish an annual Clean Air Day. The initiative encourages local schools and businesses to pledge money and raise awareness about local air quality. Similarly, London’s Low Emission Zone initiative rewards drivers in the city center whose vehicles meet stringent low emission requirements, and a UK public health agency is pushing for a ban on idling cars near schools.
Creating a safe environment for children is important to all of us at BreezoMeter. This is why we've made our real-time and hyper-local air quality data available to schools and parents for free through our mobile app. Many other providers out there do not provide truly real-time information, but when it comes to decision-making based on air quality, this is absolutely essential.
BreezoMeter's ultimate goal in making our uniquely real-time and accurate air quality information freely available is to put the power back in the hands of the people; teachers and parents can now plan their break and playtimes, gardening times, and other outdoor activities based on reliable data. Our mobile app also provides personalized recommendations and alerts for when it’s too dangerous for sensitive groups to be outside.
Air purifiers in classrooms can also make a huge difference in protecting student health, especially when leveraging outdoor air quality data to optimize performance in the face of new clean air standards for schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Jeff Bennert from Air Oasis, one of our air quality partners, explains this in further detail here.