Table of contents

Evidence of what works

Background papers: Lifestyle and wider determinants :: Air Quality [Update in progress] :: Evidence of what works

Improving air quality and mitigating the health impacts of air pollution have many synergies with other important measures to improve the public's health. Interventions addressing climate change adaptation and mitigation, increasing active travel and improving green spaces are all likely to have co-benefits for air quality.

In its guidance on walking and cycling, NICE mentions air quality as a key benefit of encouraging active travel and moving away from a society predominantly reliant on motor vehicles: “Walking and cycling, like any form of transport, involve exposure to a certain level of risk. This includes the risk of injury from falls or from collisions and exposure to air pollution. These risks are not unique to transport involving physical activity. However, evidence shows that the health benefits of being more physically active outweigh these disbenefits. The whole population benefits from less exposure to polluted air and congested streets when there is a general shift away from motorised vehicles."[1]

Defra has focused its policy on the interrelationship between climate change and air quality, with its 2010 publication Air Pollution: Action in a Changing Climate. It provided case studies in Greenwich and Perth and Kinross, which concentrated on creating Low Emission Zones, levers in planning policy and intelligent traffic management.

Defra has also provided specific advice to public health departments on the impact upon health and actions that can be taken.

The campaign group Clean Air in London, although primarily concerned with lobbying for improved air quality in the capital, has some useful advice for public health departments everywhere, arguing that: "Most important, we need to warn people about the dangers of air pollution and give them advice about protecting themselves (i.e. adaptation) and reducing pollution for themselves and others (i.e. mitigation). For example, people can reduce their exposure to air pollution by up to 50% by walking or cycling down side streets rather than busy roads. People can also reduce air pollution by walking or cycling or using public transport rather than driving a diesel vehicle."[2]

Indeed, London is advanced in its adaptation strategies in that it has a text alert service AirText which provides free, localised advice by text message on environmental conditions for vulnerable groups and other interested parties that sign up via the website. There is a similar service available for Surrey, Sussex and Southampton, called AirAlert. This has recently been expanded to Sevenoaks in West Kent.


[1]   National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. PH41: Walking and cycling: local measures to promote walking and cycling as forms of travel or recreation 2012; National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. .
[2]   Clean Air in London. Directors of Public Health and Health and Wellbeing Boards urged to act on air pollution 2012;