New research has shown that pregnant women exposed to air pollution give birth to smaller babies.
Conversely, women who live in greener areas have larger offspring – and a healthy environment could help counteract the overall negative effects of pollution on pregnancy, the results of a study conducted in northern Europe suggest.
“Our results suggest that pregnant women exposed to air pollution, even at relatively low levels, give birth to smaller babies,” said Robin Sinsamala, a researcher at the University of Bergen in Norway, as reported by the South West News Service.
The results were based on data from the Respiratory Health in Northern Europe study collected from more than 4,000 children and their mothers in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Estonia.
The researchers calculated the “greenness” of the places where the women lived during their pregnancy by measuring the density of vegetation in satellite images, including forests, farmlands and parks.
They collected data on five pollutants – nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ozone, soot and two types of particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10) – and compared this information with the babies’ birth weights.
The research team took into account the usual factors – including the woman’s age – and whether the mothers smoked or had health problems.
They found that higher levels of air pollution were associated with lower birth weight, with PM2.5, PM10, NO2 and BC having an average reduction of 1.97 ounces, 1.62 ounces, 1.69 ounces and 1.69 ounces, respectively correlated.
Although these areas had higher levels of air pollution, average air pollution levels met European Union standards.
However, when the research team took environmental friendliness into account, the impact of air pollution on birth weight decreased.
Women who lived in greener areas had babies with slightly higher birth weights – an average of 0.95 ounces heavier – than mothers who lived in more polluted areas.
Sinsamala explained that perhaps “green spaces tend to have less traffic, or that plants help clear the air of pollutants, or that green spaces may make it easier for pregnant women to be physically active.”
He noted that “the time babies grow in the womb is crucial for lung development.”
“We know that lower birth weight babies are susceptible to breast infections, and this can lead to later problems such as asthma and COPD.”
Sinsamala will present the results at the later this month International Congress of the European Respiratory Society in Milan, Italy.
Professor Arzu Yorgancioğlu, Chair of the Advocacy Council of the European Respiratory Society, noted that the study complements research on the harm that air pollution causes to human health and examines how these impacts could be mitigated through a “greener world.”
“Pregnant women want to protect their babies from possible harm. However, it can be difficult for individuals to reduce our exposure to air pollution or make our neighborhoods greener,” she said.
The expert called on doctors and researchers to put pressure on governments and policymakers to combat climate change and focus on reducing pollution.