Around 7 million people died prematurely in 2012 due to exposure to air pollution, accounting for one in eight deaths worldwide, the World Health Organization said.
The findings announced Tuesday more than doubled WHO’s previous estimate from 2008. Air pollution is now the largest environmental health risk, the group said.
Low- and middle-income countries in southeast Asia and the western Pacific region saw the most air pollution deaths, with a total of 5.8 million.
“Cleaning up the air we breathe prevents noncommunicable diseases as well as reduces disease risks among women and vulnerable groups, including children and the elderly,” Flavia Bustreo, the WHO’s assistant director for general family, women and children’s health, said in a statement. “Poor women and children pay a heavy price from indoor air pollution since they spend more time at home breathing in smoke and soot from leaky coal and wood cook stoves.”
Heart disease and stroke were the most common causes of death from air pollution, the WHO said.