New York, Sep 29 : Air pollution likely contributed to almost 6 million premature births and almost 3 million underweight babies in 2019, according to a study.
The study, led by the University of California-San Francisco and the University of Washington, quantifies the effects of indoor and outdoor pollution on several key indicators of pregnancy, including gestational age at birth, reduction in birth weight, low birth weight, and pre-term birth.
The analysis, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, stated that the global incidence of pre-term birth and low birthweight could be reduced by almost 78 per cent if air pollution were minimised in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where indoor pollution is common and pre-term birth rates are the highest in the world.
But it also found significant risks from ambient air pollution in more developed parts of the world.
In the US, for example, outdoor air pollution is estimated to have contributed to almost 12,000 pre-term births in 2019.
"The air pollution-attributable burden is enormous, yet with sufficient effort, it could be largely mitigated," said lead author Rakesh Ghosh, public health expert at the Institute for Global Health Sciences at UCSF.
The researchers said that air pollution should now be considered a major driver of infant morbidity and mortality, not just of chronic adult diseases.
"Our study suggests that taking measures to mitigate climate change and reduce air pollution levels will have significant health co-benefit for newborns," Ghosh said.
A growing body of evidence points to air pollution as a major cause of pre-term birth and low birthweight.
Preterm birth is the leading cause of neo-natal mortality worldwide, affecting more than 15 million infants every year.
Children with low birthweight or who are born premature have higher rates of major illness throughout their lives.
The World Health Organisation estimates that more than 90 per cent of the world's population lives with polluted outdoor air, and half the global population is also exposed to indoor air pollution from burning coal, dung, and wood inside the home.