Washington: The practice of cooking with wood or cow dung inside houses exposes millions of women to fine particles of air pollution in developing countries which can cause premature death and lung disease.
Biomass fuels are also the primary source of energy for more than two billion people globally. University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers have linked indoor air pollution with increased blood pressure among older women.
"I spent a lot of time watching women cook in these unvented kitchens, and within seconds, my eyes would burn, it would get a little difficult to breathe," says Jill Baumgartner, doctoral student at UW-Madison.
"The women talk about these same discomforts but they are viewed as just another hardship of rural life.
"Most women are exposed to this smoke for several hours a day. Even if the cook stove is vented, a second fire is often burning for heat," says Baumgartner, now a fellow at the Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota.
Baumgartner and colleagues associated higher levels of indoor air pollution with a significantly higher blood pressure among women aged 50 and over, reports the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
Other studies have shown that improved stoves or cleaner fuels can cut indoor air pollution by 50-75 percent, according to a Wisconsin university statement.
Such a change "may be of little consequence for an individual", says co-author Leonelo Baustista, associate professor of population health sciences at UW-Madison.
"However, changes of this magnitude in a population would have a significant, large impact on the risk of cardiovascular disease in the population."