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School of Economics and Finance Seminar Atmospheric Pollution and Child Morbidity from Respiratory Diseases: Evidence from the London Foundling Hospital 1897-1914

Speaker: Professor Eric Schneider, LSE

Abstract: Atmospheric pollution has been shown to exacerbate respiratory infections and contribute to mortality in both modern and historical settings. However, existing historical studies focus on mortality as an outcome, which makes it difficult to pinpoint the precise mechanism through which pollution affects health outcomes: does it increase the spread of disease or increase the intensity of sickness events already in progress? We also cannot rely solely on estimates of these relationships in modern populations, given that improvement in nutrition, hygiene and medical technology may have altered the relationship between pollution and morbidity over time. Finally, focusing on mortality potentially skews our understanding of how pollution affects other health outcomes, such as child growth. Repeated respiratory infections may have slowed child growth, but most of these sickness episodes were not fatal and, therefore, would not appear in the mortality record, making it possible that the disease composition of sickness events and deaths differed substantially. Thus, to understand how historical pollution affected population health, we must study historical pollution and sickness directly.

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