Thursday 16 February 2017 07.00 GMT
Air pollution could be a contributing factor in millions of premature births around the world each year, a new report has found.
Nearly 15 million babies are born annually before reaching 37 weeks gestation. Premature birth is the leading cause of death among children younger than five years old, and can cause lifelong learning disabilities, visual and hearing problems, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports.
Researchers for the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the University of Colorado, have concluded that as many as 3.4 million premature births across 183 countries could be associated with fine particulate matter, a common air pollutant, with sub-Saharan Africa, north Africa and south and east Asia most impacted by the issue.
“Preterm birth and associated conditions are one of the biggest killers of children in the US and worldwide,” said Dr Paul Jarris, chief medical officer at the March of Dimes, a US-based nonprofit focused on maternal and baby health. “Yet, there’s a lot of things we don’t know about what causes preterm birth, so every bit of information we can get is helpful.”
“We have known for a long time that air pollution contributes to asthma and heart disease in adults,” said Jarris. “What I think people fail to recognise is that so many of these risk factors impact babies before they are even born.”