Story at a glance

  • The State of Global Air 2020 study analyzed the effects of air pollution on health outcomes in 2019.
  • The study found that while both indoor and outdoor pollution can be harmful to mothers and babies, exposure to poor household air quality was dominant around the world, particularly in areas with higher rates of poverty.
  • Roughly two-thirds of infant deaths, about 64 percent, were attributable to household pollution caused by the burning of charcoal, wood and other solid fuels for cooking indoors.

Nearly half a million newborn infants worldwide died in their first month of life as a result of indoor and outdoor air pollution last year, according to an annual report. 

The State of Global Air 2020 study analyzed the effects of air pollution on health outcomes in 2019 and found some 476,000 infants across the globe died from the adverse effects of exposure to poor air quality. 


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Researchers behind the study said a growing body of evidence links air pollution with increased risk of low birth weight and preterm birth, both factors associated with higher infant mortality. Exposure can not only increase the risk of infants dying in the first month of life, but can also have negative effects on their health throughout their life if they survive, according to the study. Air pollution accounted for 20 percent of newborn deaths worldwide, most of which were related to complications of low birth weight and preterm birth. 

“It is thought that air pollution may affect a pregnant woman, her developing fetus, or both through pathways similar to those of tobacco smoking, which is a well-known risk factor for low birth weight and preterm birth,” the report states. 

The study found that while both indoor and outdoor pollution can be harmful to mothers and babies, exposure to poor household air quality was dominant around the world, particularly in the developing world. 

Roughly two-thirds of infant deaths, about 64 percent, were attributable to household pollution caused by the burning of charcoal, wood and other solid fuels for cooking indoors. 

Infants born in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia were found to have the highest rates of neonatal death attributable to air pollution. About 236,000 newborn infants are projected to have died in sub-Saharan Africa and more than 116,000 in India. 

The report also found that at least 6.7 million deaths resulted from long-term exposure to poor air quality last year and air pollution is now the fourth highest cause of death worldwide. 

The report is published by the Health Effects Institute and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s Global Burden of Diseases project. 


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Published on Oct 21, 2020