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New study reveals a startling risk for new mothers: '[It] is a major public health problem'

There were more than 15 million single-mother households in the U.S. in 2022.

There were more than 15 million single-mother households in the U.S. in 2022.

Photo Credit: iStock

A new study led by researchers at UC Irvine has revealed a startling link that may affect the health of millions of women and children globally. 

What's happening?

As detailed by Futurity, a study published by the medical journal JAMA Network Open found that long-term exposure to air pollution increased the risk of postpartum depression, with African American and Hispanic women among those considered most vulnerable. 

"Postpartum depression is a major public health problem. Due to increased susceptibility of mothers during the antepartum and postpartum periods, identifying modifiable environmental risk factors is important," said Jun Wu, a professor of environmental and occupational health at UC Irvine and an author of the study. 

According to the National Library of Medicine, symptoms of PPD include inability to sleep, depression, and suicidal thoughts, while the latest study noted "infants born to mothers with PPD may be at a higher risk of developing cognitive, emotional, and psychological impairments and behavioral abnormalities."

Why is this concerning?

The World Health Organization reports that 99% of people are breathing subpar air and has said the negative impacts of air pollution are equal to that of smoking tobacco.

Combined data from researchers in 2021 estimated that "pollution costs each American an average of $2,500" annually in medical bills, as reported by the World Economic Forum, but the latest findings indicate we may not yet know the full financial toll — specifically on women who are having children. 

There were more than 15 million single-mother households in the U.S. in 2022, while the Pew Research Center noted "American women typically earned 82 cents compared to every dollar earned by men" that same year. 

What is being done to help?

Yi Sun, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences' Institute of Medical Information and first author of the PPD study, said in a press release quoted by Futurity that the team plans to "identify modifiable environmental risk factors to support interventions."

While there have also been promising technological developments that may be part of the solution to air pollution, scientists agree that the best thing we can do is reduce our reliance on dirty energy sources, including oil, coal, and gas.

Governments have begun passing incentives to aid the transition, with the Inflation Reduction Act, for example, helping some Americans save thousands on electric vehicles, which don't produce pollution from their tailpipes. 

Multiple major companies are already on board as well — removing funding from oil and gas projects and investing in clean energy like solar power — while other brands have focused on reducing pollution by repurposing materials for their products.  

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