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Air pollution linked to 6 million premature births every year

Air pollution is linked to almost 6 million premature births worldwide, according to a new study published in the journal PLOS Medicine. 

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

In order to look at the reasons causing preterm birth, researchers at the University of California quantified preterm birth and low birthweight risks based on indoor and outdoor pollution exposure. 

They found that the global incidence of preterm birth and low birthweight could be reduced by almost 78% if air pollution were minimised in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where indoor pollution is common and preterm birth rates are the highest in the world. 

The researchers also found a significant risk from ambient air pollution in more developed parts of the world. For example, in the United States, outdoor air pollution is estimated to contribute to almost 12,000 preterm births in 2019. 

This is the first study to include the impact of indoor air pollution, mostly from cooking stoves, which accounted for two-thirds of the measured effects. 

person holding baby feet

Rakesh Ghosh, PhD, lead author of the study said: ‘The air pollution-attributable burden is enormous, yet with sufficient effort, it could be largely mitigated.”

‘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.

‘Our study suggests that taking measures to mitigate climate change and reduce air pollution levels will have significant health co-benefit for newborns.’

In related news, earlier this year Air Quality News investigated the worrying environmental factors that may be responsible for our declining fertility rates.

Photo by Omar Lopez

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