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Road pollution and children’s respiratory health

Author: Calvin Jephcote
Institution: University of Leeds
Type of case study: Research

About the research

The motor vehicle is the predominant source of outdoor air pollution in city neighbourhoods. In order to get a better understanding of how road transport pollutants impact health in a specific area, researchers have traditionally used artificially created buffers defined by arbitrary distances from major road links. One problem with this approach is it overlooks the combined influence of additional social burdens, such as deprivation.

This paper draws on an alternative approach using boundary statistics, which describe naturally occurring shifts of magnitude in socio-environmental and health outcomes across the wider urban area.

The findings identify disproportionately large environmental and respiratory health burdens in inner-city neighbourhoods where most children are from ethnic minorities.

The results indicate that hospital admissions for children experiencing breathing-related issues increased for families who live 283 metres within these naturally occurring boundaries. Furthermore, the designated threshold reduced with certain ethnic groups, suggesting environmental injustices prevail even within a prototypical British multicultural cityscape.


Road transport emissions grids from the National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory were interpolated to the Lower Layer Super Output Area (LSOA) by Ordinary Kriging.

Population counts, ethnic composition and variables of deprivation, measured by Carstairs Index, recorded within the 2001 UK Census were accessed from Casweb.

Multilevel global regression procedures, adjusting for nested sources of variability, initially explored several socio-environmental influences on children’s respiratory health. Magnitudes of spatial dependency were characterised by Getis-Ord Gi*hot-spot statistics, and measured by an overlap analysis of boundaries defined by crisp polygon wombling.


Jephcote, C. and Chen, H. (2013) ‘Geospatial analysis of naturally occurring boundaries in road-transport emissions and children’s respiratory health across a demographically diverse cityscape’, Social Science and Medicine, 82, pp. 87-99. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2013.01.030