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Help Your Children Breathe Easier

Here's something that can take your children's breath away: the air they breathe.

Air pollution hurts infants and children more than adults, studies show. Kids' lungs are still developing, they breathe faster and they spend more time outdoors.

Problems crop up at pollution levels once thought safe, says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Trouble can start at birth or even in the womb. Bad air can worsen asthma and cause more asthma-related hospital stays.

Studies also link air pollution with premature births, infant deaths and slow lung growth, the AAP says. In fact, it may even cause asthma.

These problems don't just occur in big cities or near industries.

"Even in suburban areas, where the region may have relatively clean air, there are studies now that show being near areas of high traffic can increase risk," says Janice J. Kim, M.D., Ph.D., a member of AAP's Committee on Environmental Health. In rural areas, the weather can blow pollution from the city into the countryside.

"You can't totally avoid it. All of us have to breathe," says Dr. Kim, who is also a health officer for the California Environmental Protection Agency. The most important steps you can take, she says, are to support clean air measures and help raise awareness of the problem.