According to the University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health, two-thirds of parents had experienced at least one day with poor or dangerous air quality in their neighbourhood in the last two years.
In response to poor air quality warnings, most parents kept their windows closed and reduced their children's outdoor time, but less than half advised their children to avoid intense outdoor activities or use a home air filter.
Fewer, one in nine, had their child wear a mask while outside, and one in seven did nothing.
However, while two out of every three parents are concerned about how air quality issues may affect their children, fewer are confident in the steps they should take to safeguard them.
“Our report suggests poor air quality is a common issue for families. Local news and weather reports may help parents gauge their community’s air quality, but many seem unsure about how to protect their child when air quality worsens,” said Susan Woolford, M.D., M.P.H., paediatrician at U-M Health C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and co-director of the Mott Poll.
“Children's organs are still developing, making them more susceptible to health risks from exposure to polluted air caused by wildfire smoke and other pollutants,” she added. “This makes it essential to take precautions to protect their well-being when the air is unhealthy.”
Among parents who reported poor air quality in the past two years, 18 per cent believe it affected their child’s health, according to the nationally representative report based on responses from 2,044 parents of children aged 18 and under who were surveyed in August.
The majority of parents believe poor air quality was related to wildfires while less than half blame excessive heat. Fewer point to seasonal changes such as pollen, elevated ozone levels and industrial pollution. More than 90 per cent of parents cite news or weather reports as their main information source about air quality problems.
Just 21 per cent of parents report being aware that their child’s school has a policy outlining action steps when the air quality is unhealthy. Most parents support moving recess and physical education indoors and cancelling outdoor sports and activities while fewer support encouraging children to wear masks outside.
“Being outdoors is generally good for children’s physical and mental health but parents must also consider the risks of exposure to pollution,” Woolford said.
“When air quality problems are expected to be temporary, moving activities indoors or planning outdoor events for early in the day when air quality tends to be better may be warranted to prevent high levels of exposure.”
She added that local and state policymakers may also take steps to mitigate the negative effects of poor air quality, such as by enacting zoning policies that keep heavy traffic away from schools or funding filters to improve air quality for schools, daycares and community organizations.
“Policymakers should consider the impact on babies and young children, particularly of long-term sources of pollution from sources such as factories and refineries,” she said.
“If your child has preexisting respiratory conditions like asthma, consult their healthcare provider for advice on managing their condition during events that increase their risk of pollutant exposure,” Woolford said.
“Schools play an important role in protecting children from the adverse effects of poor air quality,” Woolford said. “We found that most parents are supportive of protective actions, such as moving recess and physical education indoors.”