Air pollution shortens life expectancy and health expectancy for older adults: the case of China

J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2012 Nov;67(11):1219-29. doi: 10.1093/gerona/gls094. Epub 2012 Apr 19.


Background: Outdoor air pollution is one of the most worrying environmental threats China faces today. Comprehensive and quantitative analyses of the health consequences of air pollution in China are lacking. This study reports age- and sex-specific life expectancy and health expectancies (HEs) corresponding to different levels of air pollution based on associations between air pollution and individual risks for a host of health conditions and mortality net of individual- and community-level confounders.

Methods: This is a multilevel prospective cohort study based a nationally representative sample of Chinese elders. The main outcome measures in this study include life expectancy estimated from mortality and HEs based on five health conditions including activity of daily living, instrumental activity of daily living, cognitive status, self-rated health, and chronic conditions.

Results: Net of the controls, exposure to outdoor air pollution corresponded to subsequent reductions of life expectancy and HEs for all five health conditions. These detrimental pollution effects were stronger for women. The gap in life expectancy between areas with good air quality and moderately heavily polluted areas was 3.78 years for women of age 65 and 0.93 years for men. The differences in HEs at age 65 were also large, ranging from 1.47 years for HE for good self-rated health in men to 5.20 years for activity of daily living disability-free HE in women.

Conclusions: Air pollution has devastating health impacts on Chinese elders reducing longevity and shortening HEs. Women are more vulnerable than men. More strict air policy should be implemented to pursue sustainable development in China.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology
  • Air Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Bayes Theorem
  • China
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Female
  • Geriatric Assessment / methods
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Life Expectancy / trends*
  • Longevity / physiology*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Particulate Matter / analysis
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Reference Values
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sex Factors
  • Survival Analysis


  • Air Pollutants
  • Particulate Matter