Nearly two million empty desks

Children are not only losing years of healthy living. They are also losing out on their education. Each year, diseases related to unhealthy buildings are responsible for European children missing 1.7 million school days.

Illustration of burden of disease


Asthma, eczema and respiratory conditions are more than just uncomfortable – they can also be debilitating. So, it is no surprise that the conditions that are associated with unhealthy homes are also associated with higher school absence rates.

Children are missing school days
European children under the age of 15 will miss over 250,000 days in school due to respiratory conditions, about 365,000 days due to asthma, and almost 1,100,000 days because of issues related to eczema (in total 1.7 million).

Together, the conditions that are often linked to living in unhealthy homes are responsible for about 1.7 million missed school days. On average, this means about 2.5 missed school days per sick child per year because of illnesses that frequently correlate with an unhealthy indoor climate alone. In comparison, adults in Europe average a little fewer than 12 sick days per year10.

Missed work, missed opportunities
When a child is sick, it affects the entire family. Parents must stay home to care for their children, which means less productivity at work.

To illustrate this, one study showed that more than 40 percent of parents of children suffering from eczema reported missing work to care for their children, losing on average about three days a month11. For the children themselves, conditions like eczema and asthma are likely to last into adulthood, which could affect productivity in their own careers.

Unhealthy schools

In Europe, more than 65 million students and almost 4.5 million teachers spend between 170 and 190 days annually at school, and up to 70 percent of that time is spent inside the classroom12. Ensuring a good indoor climate in schools is key to protecting children’s learning and well-being.

Just like at home, poor indoor climate in schools and day-care centres is linked to serious health conditions. Schools and day-care centres are also sources of mould, poor lighting, noise and ventilation issues. And in fact, there is much evidence regarding the potential detrimental effect on health of a variety of indoor pollutants that can be found in school environments, either originating from the ambient air or produced indoors from building materials, products or activities13.

Air quality is key here. But, regrettably, ventilation rates in classrooms across Europe often fall below national and European recommended guidelines – and that is harming our children.

Illustration of missed school days

On the flip side, good air quality is linked to better performance. A review of multiple studies found that improved air quality could boost student performance by up to 15 percent, with a positive effect on working speed, attention level, and concentration14.

Illustration of better indoor air

In addition to impacting the performance of students, studies found statistically significant improvements in at least some health symptoms or signs of health with increased ventilation rates, for example better respiratory health. There is also evidence that increased ventilation rates can lead to reduced student absence15.

10 WHO, 2015 “Absenteeism from work due to illness, days per employee per year”
11 Filanovsky et al., 2016 “The Financial and Emotional Impact of Atopic Dermatitis on Children and Their Families.”
12 European Commission, 2018. “The Organisation of School Time in Europe. Primary and General Secondary Education – 2018/19”
13 European Commission, 2014. “Schools Indoor Pollution & Health Observatory Network in Europe. Executive Summary of the Final Report”
14 Fraunhofer-Institut für Bauphysik IBP, 2015, “Impact of the indoor environment on learning in schools in Europe”
15 Fisk et al., 2015. “Parent-reported outcomes of a shared decision-making portal in asthma: a practice-based RCT”