The World Health Organization warns that air pollution kills some 600,000 children every year, also causing symptoms ranging from loss of intelligence to obesity and ear infections.
The agency made the revelation in a report published on Monday, lamenting that there is little parents can do.
It however advised parents to avoid household air pollution by using less polluting fuels for cooking and heating, as well as not smoking in the house.
“Polluted air is poisoning millions of children and ruining their lives,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement. Large parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America are among the worst affected.
“This is inexcusable. Every child should be able to breathe clean air so they can grow and fulfil their full potential.”
The WHO report summarized the latest scientific knowledge on the effect air pollution has on children.
It estimated that about 93 percent of children globally are affected by air pollution.
WHO’s head of environmental determinants of health, Maria Neira, said the worrying findings highlighted in the study, including evidence of pollution causing stillbirth and preterm birth, as well as diseases into adulthood, should lead to policy changes globally.
“Something that is critical as well is this issue of the neuro-development,” she said.
“Imagine that our children will have less cognitive IQ. We are talking about putting at risk a new generation of having a reduced IQ. This is not only new but terribly shocking.”
There was clear, consistent evidence of an association between ambient air pollution and otitis media, or ear infections, the study said, as well as some evidence of it causing obesity and insulin resistance in children.
Air pollution can also cause childhood cancers, asthma, poor lung function, pneumonia and other types of acute lower respiratory infection, the report said.