-- Robert Preidt
TUESDAY, Oct. 15 (HealthDay News) -- Pregnant women exposed to
even low levels of air pollution are more likely to have
low-birth-weight babies, a new study suggests.
Researchers analyzed data from 14 studies that were conducted in
12 European countries and included a total of more than 74,000
women who gave birth between February 1994 and June 2011.
All types of air pollution, especially so-called fine
particulate matter, was linked to an increased risk of having a
low-birth-weight baby and was associated with a smaller average
head circumference at birth, the investigators found.
Fine particulate air pollution comes from sources such as
traffic fumes and industrial emissions. For every increase of 5
micrograms per cubic meter (mcg/m3) in exposure to fine particulate
matter during pregnancy, the risk of having a low-birth-weight baby
increased by 18 percent, the study found.
The researchers said this increased risk is present at levels
below the existing European Union annual air quality limit of 25
mcg/m3. The average levels of exposure to fine particulate matter
during pregnancy among the women in the study ranged from less than
10 mcg/m3 to nearly 30 mcg/m3.
If levels of exposure to fine particulate matter were reduced to
the World Health Organization's annual average air quality
guideline value of 10 mcg/m3, an estimated 22 percent of cases of
low birth weight among full-term babies could be prevented,
according to the authors of the study, which was published online
Oct. 15 in the journal
The Lancet Respiratory Medicine.
"Our findings suggest that a substantial proportion of cases of low birth weight at term could be prevented in Europe if urban air pollution -- particularly fine particulate matter -- was reduced," lead author Dr. Marie Pedersen, from the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona, Spain, said in a journal news release.
Although the study found an association between air pollution
exposure during pregnancy and low birth weight in offspring,
however, it did not prove cause and effect.
Jonathan Grigg, the author of an accompanying editorial in the
journal, noted: "Overall, maternal exposure to traffic-derived
particulate matter probably increases vulnerability of their
offspring to a wide range of respiratory disorders in both infancy
and later life."
If more people were aware of this, it could increase the
pressure on policy makers to reduce levels of particulate matter
air pollution in cities, said Grigg, of Queen Mary, University of
London, in England.
The World Health Organization has more about
air pollution and health.
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