Car exhaust

Pregnant women exposed to vehicular air pollution along with contaminants from coal power plants and urban heating plants are more likely to give birth to children with low birth weights, finds a new study published in the current issue of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Conducted by researchers at UC San Francisco, the National Center for Health Statistics, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the study is the largest of its kind to look at the connection between environmental pollutants and birth weights. Researchers looked at data collected in nine nations including the U.S. In total, more than three million births were analyzed. The researchers analyzed data collected from the International Collaboration on Air Pollution and Pregnancy Outcomes between the mid-1990s and late 2000s.

“What’s significant is that these are air pollution levels to which practically everyone in the world is commonly exposed,” said Tracey J. Woodruff, PhD, MPH, co-principal investigator and professor of obstetrics and gynecology and reproductive sciences at UC San Francisco. “These microscopic particles, which are smaller than the width of a human hair, are in the air that we all breathe,” making the case for stricter regulations on air pollution worldwide.

A low birth weight, which is anything below 5.5 pounds, carries with it serious health risks including perinatal morbidity and higher risks for mortality and may lead to the development of chronic health problems later in life, cite the study researchers. An investigation on the long-term health effects of low birth weights is currently underway.

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Image: Simone Ramella