Study finds air pollution linked to 6 million premature births worldwide

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For the first time, the effects of indoor and outdoor air pollution have been measured together, to determine how they affect pregnancy and the health of newborns. The results of the analysis, carried out by the University of California and the University of Washington, are without question, staggering, citing numbers that are almost too big to comprehend.


Indoor and outdoor pollution affects millions of babies

The data reveals that in 2019, air pollution from inside and outside our homes, caused as many as 6 million premature births, and close to 3 million infants were born underweight. According to Rakesh Ghosh, an epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco and lead researcher on the paper, indoor air pollution is having much more of an impact on our health than the air outside.

“At an individual level, indoor air pollution exposure appears to carry a much higher burden compared to outdoor levels,”


Air pollution is the main cause of premature birth

For the purposes of the study, the team looked at a baby’s gestational age at birth, along with the number of babies born early or underweight. Allowing for factors such as smoking, alcohol use and diet, they believe air pollution is the leading cause of low birth weight and premature birth.


Premature birth leads to complications later in life

While those first few months of life carry the most risk for premature babies, even those who survive, are not completely out of the woods. Being born early can lead to an increased risk of serious illness later on, including long-term intellectual and developmental disabilities, and complications associated with respiratory health and sight.


Pollution affects us all through our lives

This particular study focused on the effects of air pollution for newborns, but dirty air impacts our health all through our lives, from the time we are conceived, right up until our senior years. Pollution affects our fertility, the health of our unborn babies, it increases the risk of infections, and puts children at risk of allergic rhinitis, asthma, allergic conjunctivitis, eczema and dermatitis. Teenagers exposed to high levels of pollutants are more likely to suffer from mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety and psychosis. And in our senior years, exposure to pollutants increases our risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.


Pollution from wildfires in the US is the highest in 10 years

We generally associate the worst air pollution with countries such as India and China. But in recent years, the prevalence of wildfires is having a major impact on air quality much closer to home. This year, smoke from fires on the west coast of the US travelled across the country, affecting air quality thousands of miles away. In fact, analysis of federal satellite imagery shows that Americans are breathing more wildfire smoke now than they did ten years ago.


Now is the time for change

Multiple studies show, air pollution puts an enormous burden on our health, but it could be avoided. According to Tim Nawrot, an environmental epidemiology professor at Hasselt University in Belgium, the findings of this study have given us the chance to look at data in a new, previously unseen way. His message is clear…

“Science has provided the full translation…. Policymakers have to pick it up and do something with it.”

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