Environmental factors predict risk of death

Along with high blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking, environmental factors such as air pollution are highly predictive of people’s chances of dying, especially from heart attack and stroke, a new study shows.

Led by researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the study showed that exposure to above average levels of outdoor air pollution increased risk of death by 20%, and risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 17%.

Using wood- or kerosene-burning stoves, not properly ventilated through a chimney, to cook food or heat the home also increasd overall risk of death (by 23% and 9%) and cardiovascular death risk (by 36% and 19%). Living far from specialty medical clinics and near busy roads also increased risk of death.

Publishing in the journal PLOS ONE online June 24, the findings come from personal and environmental health data collected from 50,045 mostly poor, rural villagers living in the northeast Golestan region of Iran. All study participants were over age 40 and agreed to have their health monitored during annual visits with researchers dating as far back as 2004.

Researchers say their latest investigation not only identifies environmental factors that pose the greatest risk to heart and overall health, but also adds much-needed scientific evidence from people in low- and middle-income countries. Traditional research on environmental risk factors, the researchers note, has favored urban populations in high-income countries with much greater access to modern health care services.

Compared with those who have easier access to specialized medical services, those living farther away from clinics with catheterization labs able to unblock clogged arteries, for example, were at increased risk of death by 1% for every 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) of distance. In Golestan, most people live more than 50 miles (80 kilometers) away from such modern facilities.

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