Air pollution linked to six million preterm births globally: Study
Air pollution likely contributed to nearly six million premature births and almost three million underweight babies around the world in 2019, according to a study published on Wednesday. Researchers at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and the University of Washington in the US quantified the effects of indoor and outdoor pollution around the world using data from 204 countries.
Finding shows how PM2.5 affects key indicators of pregnancy
The finding is the most in-depth look yet at how small particulate matter (PM2.5) affects key indicators of pregnancy, including gestational age at birth, reduction in birth weight, low birth weight, and preterm birth. It's the first global burden of disease study of these indicators to include effects of indoor air pollution, mostly from cookstoves, which accounted for two-thirds of measured effects, researchers said.
About 5.9mn preterm births could have been averted in 2019
The finding was published in the journal PLOS Medicine. "Our findings suggest that about 2.8 million low birth weight and 5.9 million preterm birth infants, globally, could have been averted in 2019 if the mean PM2.5 exposure during the entire pregnancy was reduced to the theoretical minimum risk exposure level," the authors of the study noted.
Preterm birth is the leading cause of neonatal mortality worldwide
"South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa combined could have decreased the 2019 low birth weight and preterm birth incidence by about 78 percent," they added. The researchers noted that preterm birth is the leading cause of neonatal mortality worldwide, affecting over 15 million infants every year.
Children born prematurely have higher rates of major illness: Researchers
"Children with low birth weight or who are born prematurely have higher rates of major illness throughout their lives," they explained. "The air pollution-attributable burden is enormous, yet with sufficient effort, it could be largely mitigated," said lead author Rakesh Ghosh. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 90 percent of the world's population lives with polluted outdoor air.
Half the global population is exposed to indoor air pollution
The WHO estimates that half the global population is also exposed to indoor air pollution from burning coal, dung, and wood inside the home. In Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, indoor pollution is common and preterm birth rates are the highest in the world.
Risks from ambient air pollution found in world's developed parts
However, it also found significant risks from ambient air pollution in more developed parts of the world. In the US, for example, outdoor air pollution is estimated to have contributed to almost 12,000 preterm births in 2019. "Our study suggests that taking measures to mitigate climate change and reduce air pollution levels will have significant health co-benefit for newborns," Ghosh said.