Research links climate change to premature, underweight or stillborn babies

Research links climate change to premature, underweight or stillborn babies
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A new study has found that pregnant women exposed to air pollution and high temperatures are more likely to give birth to preterm, stillborn or underweight children.

The review, published in JAMA Network Open, examined more than 32 million births and found an association between climate change effects such as heat, ozone and fine particulate matter, and adverse pregnancy outcomes.

Researchers also found that minority women, particularly black mothers, were impacted the most.

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The study, published Thursday, comes amid nationwide protests over the killings of black men at the hands of police, and mounting tensions over systemic racial disparities. It also adds to the growing body of evidence that as global temperatures rise and pollution spreads, minority communities are disproportionately impacted.

Ten of the studies included in the review found an increased risk of preterm birth among mothers in minority groups. Eight of the studies noted higher risk for black mothers.

Nathaniel DeNicola, who was involved with the review of 68 studies and 32.8 million births, said that while much of the current media coverage is focusing on black men and police brutality, this study highlights the systemic disparities for black women, too.

“Black moms matter,” he said.

The studies included in the review support a link between air pollution and adverse pregnancy outcomes. Nineteen of the 24 studies looking at air pollution found a connection between air pollutants and preterm birth rates, 25 out of 29 studies found a link to low birth weight, and four of the five studies found increased stillbirths as associated with pollution.

DeNicola, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at George Washington University’s School of Medicine and Health Science, said preterm birth can impact a child’s brain development and cognitive capacity, as well as their immune system.

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Some of the studies examined disproportionate preterm birth, stillbirth or underweight birth rates depending on ZIP codes. DeNicola explained that women in poorer ZIP codes tend to be more exposed to pollution and heat, due to, among other factors, proximity to highways and lack of air conditioning due to income.

DeNicola said that while many don’t first think of health when they think of climate change, pollution and temperature changes will likely impact health before it impacts sea level.

“Pregnancy health sets the stage for an entire generation,” DeNicola said.

A separate study recently found that pregnant women exposed to extreme heat are more likely to give birth to children with heart defects.