Air pollution causes nearly 6 million preterm births worldwide

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Air pollution contributed to almost 6 million premature births already close to 3 million underweight babies in 2019, according to the study of global burden of diseases of the
UC San Francisco
and the
Universidad de Washington (EE.UU.)
which quantifies the effects of indoor and outdoor pollution around the world.

The work, published today in
«PLOS Medicine»
, is the most in-depth analysis ever done on how air pollution affects several key indicators of pregnancy: gestational age at birth, low birth weight and preterm labor.

In addition, it is the first global study on the disease burden of these indicators which includes the effects of indoor air pollution, mainly from the kitchens, which accounted for two-thirds of the measured effects.

There is increasing data suggesting that air pollution is one of the main causes of premature labor and low birth weight.

Preterm birth is the leading cause of neonatal mortality worldwide, affecting more than 15 million infants each year. Children with low birth weight or who are born prematurely have higher rates of serious illness throughout their lives.

Preterm birth is the leading cause of neonatal mortality worldwide, affecting more than 15 million infants each year

The
World Health Organization
estimates that more than 90% of the world’s population lives in an environment with polluted air; Furthermore, half of the world’s population is also exposed to indoor air pollution from burning charcoal, manure, and wood inside the home.

“The burden attributable to air pollution is enormous, but with enough effort, it could be greatly mitigated,” says the study’s lead author, Rakesh Ghosh, of the
UCSF Institute for Global Health Sciences.

The analysis, carried out in collaboration with researchers from the
Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME)
from the University of Washington, quantified the risks of preterm labor and low birth weight based on total exposure to indoor and outdoor pollution.

The study findings showed that the overall incidence of preterm labor and low birth weight could be reduced by almost one 78% if air pollution was minimizedespecially in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where indoor pollution is common and preterm birth rates are the highest in the world.

But it also found significant risks of environmental pollution in more developed areas of the world. For example, in the US, it is estimated that outdoor air pollution contributed to almost 12,000 premature births in 2019.

According to the researchers, “this new evidence suggests that environmental pollution should now be considered a major factor in infant morbidity and mortality, not just chronic diseases in adults.”

Ghosh concludes that this study “suggests that taking measures to mitigate the climate change and reduce pollution levels of the air will have a significant collateral benefit for the health of the newborn.

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