Newborns and babies still in the womb during a woman’s third-trimester face an increased risk of being short for their age or stunted later in life if exposed to high levels of air pollution, says a new international study published last week in Environmental Health.
Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, studied 200,000 children born between February 2010 and December 2015. Results of the study revealed that children born during peak pollution times, between November and January, face the highest decline of height.
The findings show that an increase of 100 μ g/m3 in the ambient PM2.5 levels during the birth month was associated with a decrease of 0.05 in the height-for-age. In other words, a five-year-old girl would be 0.24 centimeters shorter than average.
“This study adds to the evidence that air pollution also affects the health and development of the next generation,” said Sagnik Dey, one of the authors on the study. The study accounted for compounding factors like the height of the mother and whether the child is born in a rural or urban setting, but the decrease in the height of children with increase pollution levels was noted across board.”
Rural children were found, on average, to be shorter than their urban counterparts. Dey attributes this to factors like malnutrition and open defecation but also to the fact that in rural areas household pollution is higher due to the use of solid fuels.
Stunted growth is not just about height either, it can affect cognitive development and increases the chance that a child will develop diseases such as diabetes and hypertension later in life.
This is just the latest study to show how air pollution affects newborns or developing fetuses. A study earlier this year showed the toxic air will shorten lives by 20 months. Another study revealed that air pollution may shorten telomeres, repetitive nucleotide sequences at each end of a chromosome that protects the end of the chromosome from deterioration, of newborn babies.