Air pollution likely cause of up to 6m premature births, study finds

Research shows that air pollution may have contributed to up to 6,000,000 premature births worldwide and 3,000,000 underweight babies each year.
This analysis, which incorporates the results from multiple scientific studies, is first to calculate the global burden of indoor and outdoor air pollution.

According to recent findings, indoor pollution was responsible for almost two-thirds (or more) of all pregnancies' pollution in 2019. This is particularly true in areas that are developing, such as some regions of South-east Asia or sub-Saharan Africa.

Rakesh Ghosh is an epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco. He was also the lead researcher on the paper published in Plos Medicine. Prenatal care should include a focus on reducing household pollution exposure to the greatest extent possible, particularly in areas where it is common.

Air pollution is often measured by the amount of particulate matter less than 2.5 microns. Once inhaled, their tiny size allows them to penetrate deep into the bloodstream and cause potentially serious health problems.

Nearly 92% of the world's population live in areas with outdoor air quality below the recommended levels set by the World Health Organization. Around 49% of those living in such areas are also exposed to high levels of indoor pollution.

South and east Asia are most polluted. 49 of the 50 most polluted cities in the world are located in Bangladesh, India, China and Pakistan. Recent years have seen a lot of air pollution from wildfires, agricultural fires, and dust storms.

Air pollution is estimated to cost the world's economy more than $2.9tn annually, and cause serious health problems.

Ghoshs' team reviewed 108 papers that examined indoor and outdoor polluting in relation to four major pregnancy risks: reduction in birthweight, premature births, and reduced gestational age at delivery.

Researchers found that air pollution was the leading cause of premature birth and low birth weight after adjusting for factors like pregnancy weight, smoking, alcohol use, and nutrition. This is the main reason for 15 million deaths each year in newborns worldwide.

These findings are based on Ghosh's previous research with colleagues. In that study, Ghosh calculated that global air pollution was responsible for the deaths of approximately 500,000 babies in 2019.

The study found that reducing air pollution in sub-Saharan Africa and south-east Asia could reduce the number of premature births as well as babies with low birth weight by nearly 78%.