This week the British Heart Foundation launched its ‘You’re Full of It’ campaign. It says: “Millions of us across the country are inhaling toxic particles which enter our blood and get stuck in our organs, raising our risk of heart attacks and stroke...Make no mistake – our toxic air is a public health emergency, and we haven’t done enough to tackle this threat to our society”.
The campaign invites the public to join the call for national and local governments to adopt the World Health Organization's air quality limits. We support this.
It seems there is new evidence every day about the potential impacts of dangerous air quality and we know that it will take coordinated efforts - from governments, industry, public services and local communities - to address this. But this isn't straightforward and there is still far too little support for testing and scaling solutions to these kind of complex public health challenges.
In fact only five per cent of health research and development funding goes into public health and prevention, despite at least 75 per cent of our health being determined by environmental, socioeconomic and behavioural factors.
At Nesta, we believe the solution lies in the creation of a research centre focused on redressing this imbalance. An organisation to experiment with new ideas and learn from existing promising efforts - projects like the Southampton Collective, which is using citizen science and community-led solutions to fight air pollution in their local neighbourhoods, and the Ella Roberta Family Foundation, which is combining research, lobbying and education in South East London.
The government is missing opportunities to embrace the creative thinking that is coming from communities and transdisciplinary research in addition to sector experts. If it cares about stopping deaths from air pollution it must adopt the WHO's air quality limits and commit to changing the way it funds health research to focus on testing practical ideas and solutions to tackle this and other significant health challenges.