Research suggests exposure to air pollution is reduced with clearer alerts

Clearer messages in air quality alerts may make people more likely to follow recommendations to avoid exposure on poor air quality days, researchers in London have found.

Researchers at King’s College London examined the impact of sending volunteers different types of health advice over the app CityAir, the app released by the City of London and KCL to help Londoners reduce their exposure to air pollution.

The academics hoped to see what would happen if people received more ‘behaviourally enhanced’ messages about air pollution compared to the usual type of messages provided by the government’s Daily Air Quality Index.

The study, published in the journal Environment International, found that significantly more people considered changing how they acted to reduce their exposure to poor quality air if they received the more detailed messages than if they received the standard messages.

‘Significantly more respondents in the intervention group (i.e. those who received behaviourally enhanced messages targeting message specificity and psychosocial predictors of behaviour change) had considered making permanent changes to reduce exposure to air pollution at four weeks, compared to the control group receiving the usual UK DAQI messages,’ the study concluded.

‘This effect was mediated by a reduced perception of not having enough time to follow the health advice received.’

The researchers behind the study divided participants into two groups, with one receiving the standard DAQI messages and the other receiving the enhanced messages.

The first group received messages in the usual UK DAQI message format containing less specific recommendations, such as advising people with lung or heart problems to avoid exercising outdoors.

The other group received more detailed health recommendations, as well as additional messages about how recipients could carry them out.

The study found that only a minority of people reported changing their behaviour in response to moderate air quality alerts – regardless of which group they were in.

However, more people with pre-existing lung conditions reported using an inhaler if they’d received the detailed alerts than if they had received the normal alerts.

Both groups responded similarly well to changing their behaviour if they received alerts relating to high air pollution, the study found.

Researchers found that greater worry about air pollution, the usefulness of the recommendations received and self-motivation all played a part in whether participants still took action to reduce their exposure after the study had finished.

‘This study expands the currently limited understanding of how to improve the behavioural impact of existing air quality alerts,’ the report concluded.

The results of the study could now be used to help refine resources like DAQI in order to make them more effective.