Written By: Emma Websdale
Pregnant women who are living in air polluted areas and dense traffic are likely to give birth to underweight babies as pollutants have been found to restrict fetal growth, reveals a new study.
According to a new study by a group of European researchers, for every increase of exposure to air pollutants by five micrograms per cubic meter during pregnancy, the risk of low birthweight (babies born under 2.5kg) increases by 18%.
The study, published in the journal, Lancet Respiratory Medicine, analyzed the results of studies from 12 countries in Europe, covering over 74,000 women who gave birth between 1994 and 2011. One key finding concludes that increased exposure to air pollutants reduces both the average birthweight and head circumference of newborn babies.
The study estimates that if levels of air pollutant particles are reduced to the World Health Organization’s annual average air quality guidance value of 10 micrograms per cubic meter, 22% of low birth weights in babies could be prevented.
“Our findings suggest that a substantial proportion of cases of low birth weight at term could be prevented in Europe if urban air pollution, particularly fine particulate matter, was reduced”, said lead author Dr. Marie Pedersen.
She added, “The widespread exposure of pregnant women worldwide to urban ambient air pollution at similar or even higher concentrations than those assessed in our study provides a clear message to policy makers to improve the quality of the air we all share.”
The report raises concern as low birthweights in babies often indicate poor health and result in smaller head circumferences that could later, manifest into problems such as neurodevelopmental delay. Meanwhile, previous studies have shown that increased exposure to traffic-related air pollution in pregnant women also increases the likelihood of asthma and autism in their babies.