Air pollution from PM2.5 particulates implicated in increasing risk of premature births

Reducing air pollution from the tiny particles, PM2.5 may help to prevent 2.7 million premature births per year worldwide, according to a study published in Environment International. These particles come from sources such as diesel powered vehicles, fires and other sources. Worldwide about 10% of births are classed as preterm, and for these babies there can be significant short and long-term health implications – depending on how early the baby was born. Problems associated with prematurity are the top cause of death among children under 5 years old, and has also been associated with learning and developmental disabilities as well as an increased risk of psychiatric disorders. The number of premature births caused by this air pollution in the UK per year might be as much as 4,500.  The worst problems are in south and south east Asia, including India and China.  The study considered that about 18% of all pre-term births were associated with the particulate pollution in 2010. Other factors linked to pre-term birth are maternal age (young and old), multiple pregnancy (twins etc.), social and personal/lifestyle factors such as poverty, maternal education, prenatal care, physical activity, diet, and alcohol and drug consumption.


The study can be found here


Air Pollution Linked To Millions Of Premature Births Around The Globe

Africa and Asia were the worst affected.
By Carolyn Gregoire (Huffington Post)


If protecting the environment alone wasn’t reason enough to take measures to reduce air pollution, the massive global health implications of rising preterm birth rates certainly should be.

Each year, 15 million babies around the world ― that’s roughly 1 in 10 infants ― are born prematurely, according to the World Health Organization.

Along with factors like poverty and maternal health status, new research suggests that air pollution is a major risk factor for births occurring at 37 weeks or earlier.

The findings, published last week in the journal Environment International, showed that 2.7 million preterm births across 183 countries in 2010 were associated with a common air pollutant known as fine particulate matter, or PM.

PM is a dangerous form of air pollution consisting of tiny particles in the air that reduce visibility and can cause air to appear hazy. Primarily released from sources like diesel vehicles and agricultural waste-burning, PM can penetrate deep into the lungs and contribute to the development of health problems.

“This study highlights that air pollution may not just harm people who are breathing the air directly ― it may also seriously affect a baby in its mother’s womb,” Dr. Chris Malley, a researcher at the University of York and the study’s lead author, said in a statement. “Preterm births associated with this exposure not only contribute to infant mortality, but can have life-long health effects in survivors.”

For the study, researchers from Sweden, the U.S. and the U.K. looked at data on air pollution levels in different countries, analyzing PM levels by region. Then, they compared PM levels with what scientists know about a mother’s risk of having a preterm baby based on her level of air pollution exposure.

Countries in Africa and Asia were the most deeply affected by pollution-related preterm births, with 75 percent coming from South and East Asia. India alone accounted for roughly 1 million of the 2.7 million pollution-related preterm births.

In terms of overall preterm birth rates globally, India ranks number one, followed by China, Nigeria, Pakistan and the United States.

A woman living in urban India or China may inhale as much as ten times more air pollution than someone living in rural England, for example, the study’s authors note.

The researchers admit that it’s difficult to determine the exact causes of preterm birth, and that more research is needed, especially in places like India and China, to more clearly determine the risk factors.

Preterm birth can have significant short and long-term health implications. It’s the top cause of death among children under five years old, and has also been associated with learning and developmental disabilities as well as an increased risk of psychiatric disorders.