Air pollution causes almost 6MILLION premature births around the world every year, study finds
Air pollution may have contributed to almost 6million premature births and nearly 3million babies being born underweight around the world in 2019, a study claims.
And it wasn’t just pollution from traffic or power plants, which have commonly been thought to be the biggest source of toxic air.
Indoor cooking stoves contributed to around two thirds of the cases, according to the research by the University of California in San Francisco.
Researchers analysed how outdoor and indoor air pollution impacted pregnancy outcomes around the world.
They found the global number of preterm births and underweight babies could be cut by 78 per cent if air pollution was minimised in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
The authors said indoor pollution, from burning coal, dung, and wood inside homes, is common in these regions with preterm births rates also the highest in the world.
But air pollution, and its subsequent impact on pregnancies, is not only a problem in the developing world.
The study also found that outdoor air pollution contributed to an estimated 12,000 preterm births in the US in 2019. An estimate wasn’t given for the UK.
A growing number of studies have pointed to pollution as a factor leading to premature births and miscarriages. Previous research has suggested this is partly a result of women suffering inflammation and ‘internal stress’ from pollutants.
New research has show a combination of outdoor and indoor air pollution was a likely contributor to almost 6 million premature births and nearly 3 million babies being born underweight around the world in 2019. The study authors say the findings should prompt nations to tackle the problem to save the lives of new born children
The researchers do not detail how many of the 6million babies born prematurely as a result of air pollution in 2019 survived.
However, they do note that preterm birth is leading cause of newborn mortality worldwide.
The World Health Organization estimates that 1million babies die every year due to preterm birth complications.
Children born prematurely, as well as all babies born with a low birth weight, are at increased risk of developing major illness throughout their lives.
These can range from respiratory illnesses, bleeding in the brain and problems with heart and digestive system, and long term intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Professor Rakesh Ghosh, the study’s main author, said the global health impact of air pollution was immense.
‘The air pollution-attributable burden is enormous, yet with sufficient effort, it could be largely mitigated,’ he said.
Professor Ghosh said the findings should be a wake up call for nations to tackle air pollution for the sake of the next generation.
‘With this new, global and more rigorously generated evidence, air pollution should now be considered a major driver of infant morbidity and mortality, not just of chronic adult diseases,’ he said.
‘Our study suggests that taking measures to mitigate climate change and reduce air pollution levels will have significant health co-benefit for newborns.’
The findings were published in the journal PLOS Medicine.
Premature birth charity, Bliss, estimates that 60,000 babies are born prematurely in the UK every year, accounting for one out of every thirteen births.
In the US, there are about 380,000 premature births a year, accounting for one in ten births according to pregnancy health campaign group March of Dimes.
This latest study is the latest in a series of research linking air pollution and problems in pregnancy.
Women exposed to air pollution before getting pregnant are nearly 20 per cent more likely to have babies with birth defects, research suggested in January 2018.
Living within 3.1 miles (5km) of a highly-polluted area one month before conceiving makes women more likely to give birth to babies with defects such as cleft palates or lips, a study by University of Cincinnati found.
For every 0.01mg/m3 increase in fine air particles, birth defects rise by 19 per cent, the research adds.
Previous research suggests this causes birth defects as a result of women suffering inflammation and ‘internal stress’.
WHAT HAVE RECENT STUDIES SHOWN POLLUTION CAN DO TO OUR HEALTH AND BODIES?
CAUSE CHILDREN TO HAVE A LOW IQ: Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found in May 2019 that children born to mothers who live in polluted areas have an IQ that is up to seven points lower than those living in places with cleaner air.
CAUSE CHILDREN TO HAVE POORER MEMORY: Researchers at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health found boys exposed to greater levels of PM2.5 in the womb performed worse on memory tests by the time they are 10.
DELAY THE DEVELOPMENT OF CHILDREN: Youngsters who live less than one-third of a mile away from busy roads are twice as likely to score lower on tests of communication skills in infancy, found researchers at Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health in April. They were also more likely to have poorer hand-eye coordination.
MAKE CHILDREN MORE ANXIOUS: University of Cincinnati scientists claimed pollution may alter the structure of children’s brains to make them more anxious. Their study of 14 youngsters found rates of anxiety was higher among those exposed to greater levels of pollution.
CUT YOUR CHILD’S LIFE SHORT: Children born today will lose nearly two years of their lives because of air pollution, according to a report by the US-based Health Effects Institute and the University of British Columbia in April 2019. UNICEF called for action on the back of the study.
RAISE A CHILD’S RISK OF AUTISM: Researchers at Monash University in Australia discovered youngsters living in highly polluted parts of Shanghai have a 86 per cent greater chance of developing ASD. Lead author Dr Yuming Guo said: ‘The developing brains of young children are more vulnerable to toxic exposures in the environment.’
CAUSE ASTHMA IN CHILDREN: Four million children around the world develop asthma each year because of road traffic pollution, a major study by academics at George Washington University estimated. Experts are divided as to what causes asthma – but exposure to pollution in childhood increases the risk by damaging the lungs.
MAKE CHILDREN FAT: University of Southern California experts found last November that 10 year olds who lived in polluted areas when they were babies are, on average, 2.2lbs (1kg), heavier than those who grew up around cleaner air. Nitrogen dioxide pollution could disrupt how well children burn fat, the scientists said.
LEAVE WOMEN INFERTILE EARLIER: Scientists at the University of Modena, Italy, claimed in May 2019 that they believe pollution speeds up ageing in women, just like smoking, meaning they run out of eggs faster. This was based on them finding almost two-thirds of women who have a low ‘reserve’ of eggs regularly inhaled toxic air.
RAISE THE RISK OF A MISCARRIAGE: University of Utah scientists found in January that pregnant women are 16 per cent more likely to suffer the heartbreak of a miscarriage if they live in areas of high pollution.
RAISE THE RISK OF BREAST CANCER: Scientists at the University of Stirling found six women working at the same bridge next to a busy road in the US got breast cancer within three years of each other. There was a one in 10,000 chance the cases were a coincidence, the study said. It suggested chemicals in the traffic fumes caused the cancer by shutting down the BRCA genes, which try to stop tumours growing.
DAMAGE A MAN’S SPERM: Brazilian scientists at the University of Sao Paulo found in March that mice exposed to toxic air had lower counts and worse quality sperm compared to those who had inhaled clean air since birth.
MAKE MEN LESS LIKELY TO GET SEXUALLY AROUSED: Scientists at Guangzhou Medical University in China found rats exposed to air pollution struggled to get sexually aroused. Scientists believe it may also affect men, as inhaling poisonous particles may trigger inflammation in blood vessels and starve the genitals of oxygen – affecting men’s ability to become sexually aroused.
MAKE MEN MORE LIKELY TO HAVE ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION: Men who live on main roads are more likely to have difficulty getting an erection due to exposure to pollution, a Guangzhou University in China study suggested in February. Toxic fumes reduced blood flow to the genitals, tests on rats showed, putting them at risk of developing erectile dysfunction.
RAISE THE RISK OF PSYCHOSIS: In March, King’s College London scientists linked toxic air to intense paranoia and hearing voices in young people for the first time. They said uncovering exactly how pollution may lead to psychosis should be an ‘urgent health priority’.
MAKE YOU DEPRESSED: Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers found in January that that the more polluted the air, the sadder we are. Their study was based on analysing social media users in China alongside the average daily PM2.5 concentration and weather data where they lived.
CAUSE DEMENTIA: Air pollution could be responsible for 60,000 cases of dementia in the UK, researchers from King’s College London and St George’s, University of London, calculated last September. Tiny pollutants breathed deep into the lungs and enter the blood stream, where they may travel into the brain and cause inflammation – a problem which may trigger dementia.