Air Pollution causes low birth weight

Air pollution causes babies to be born smaller, according to a study of babies born just after the Beijing Olympics.

The research surveyed the birth weights of 83,672 babies born in Beijing around the time of the 2008 Olympics, when the government closed down industry, raised vehicle emissions standards, stopped construction and introduced a license plate rotation to slash the number of vehicles on the road.

Pollution was reduced between 18% and 59% during the summer of 2008. Birth weights were on average 23g higher for babies who were in the eight months of pregnancy during the summer of the Games than during the same period in 2007 and 2009.

These findings illustrate a significant health consequence of pollution. It appears that during late pregnancy air pollution is restricting the fastest phase of foetal development. Furthermore exposure to significant pollution levels before birth increases the likelihood of asthma and decreased lung functionality during your lifetime. Therefore it is likely that the babies born in the summer of 2008 will experience fewer health complications or diseases later in life.

The issue of high pollution is experienced in a great number of Chinese cities. It would be logical to think that the impacts that have been identified on babies in Beijing would be similar across other cities.

The research also revealed that mothers who were between one and seven months pregnant during the 2008 Olympics gave birth to babies of a similar size in all three years studied. It appears that birth weight is only effected when exposure to lower pollution levels are experienced in the later stages of pregnancy. There is no evidence to suggest positive impacts upon the first seven months of pregnancy.

Find out more about What’s in China’s Air now.


Source: Mathiesen, K 2015 ‘Air pollution causes low birth weight, Beijing study shows’ The Guardian 28 April. Available from [13 May 2015]

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