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Researchers make eye-opening discovery about one factor's effect on low birth weight rates: 'Even at relatively low levels'

The data was collected from 4,286 children and their mothers living in five countries.

The data was collected from 4,286 children and their mothers living in five countries.

Photo Credit: iStock

For years, scientists have been warning of the health risks associated with air pollution. Now new research highlights the consequences air pollution has on babies in the womb. 

The research findings reveal that pregnant women exposed to air pollution give birth to babies with a low birth weight, which can lead to adverse health effects. On the other hand, women living in "greener areas" give birth to bigger babies, according to a summary by the European Respiratory Society (ERS).

What's happening?

Robin Mzati Sinsamala, a researcher in the Department of Global Public Health and Primary Care at the University of Bergen, Norway, presented the findings, underscoring the correlation between air quality and birth weight.

"Our results suggest that pregnant women exposed to air pollution, even at relatively low levels, give birth to smaller babies," Sinsamala said, per the ERS. 

"They also suggest that living in a greener area could help counteract this effect," Sinsamala continued. "It could be that green areas tend to have lower traffic or that plants help to clear the air of pollution, or green areas may mean it's easier for pregnant women to be physically active."

The data was collected from the Respiratory Health in Northern Europe study and included 4,286 children and their mothers living in five European countries: Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Estonia. 

To determine the level of greenness in the areas where study participants lived, the researchers measured the density of forests, farms, and city parks on satellite images. They then collected data on five pollutants: nitrogen dioxide, ozone, black carbon, and two types of particulate matter. 

The researchers also considered additional factors known to impact birth weight, such as the mother's age and smoking history. 

Why are low birth weights concerning?

According to the study, there is a strong correlation between birth weight and lung health, as babies with a low birth weight have a higher risk of developing asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases later in life. 

"The time when babies are growing in the womb is critical for lung development. We know that babies with lower birth weight are susceptible to chest infections, and this can lead on to problems like asthma and COPD later on," said Sinsamala. 

The research findings reveal the effects even low levels of air pollution have on the health of vulnerable segments of the population. 

Air pollution is not only detrimental to our health but also to the planet. Pollutants in the atmosphere contribute to rising temperatures across the globe.

What's being done about it?

The study's findings were presented at the European Respiratory Society International Congress in Milan, Italy, in September. 

Scientists and health experts who have been researching the long-term effects of air pollution on vulnerable populations are urging lawmakers to take action.

"As doctors and researchers who care about children's health, we need to put pressure on governments and policy-makers to lower the levels of pollution in the air we breathe," said Arzu Yorgancioğlu, European Respiratory Society Advocacy Council Chair, in response to the study.

Individually, we can do the same by getting involved in climate issues and holding polluting corporations accountable

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