By Margarita Nahapetyan
Mothers who live in areas that are moderately polluted by car fumes give birth to babies with lower than average birth weight, a new Australian study has revealed. In particular, scientists from the University of Western Australia (UWA) and the Telethon Institute of Child Health Research found that women who lived in Perth suburbs with moderate traffic emissions had babies weighing around 60 grams less on average than the expected average weight of 3.5 kilograms.
The conclusion was based on the analysis of the records of 1,800 pregnant women and their babies in three metropolitan areas. An association was found in only one of these areas, Perth suburbs, an area with low industrial activity, with a mix of polluted and quiet roads. Researchers said that they took the baby's weight at birth and then worked out their expected size under optimal conditions. At the same time, a computer model, developed by the Victorian Environmental Protection Authority, was calculating the concentration of traffic emissions around the homes of mothers up to the time they gave birth.
The results were based on what babies' weights were expected to be if there were no other obstacles to their growth such as diabetes in the mothers. Also, the investigators say that they took into consideration if women smoked during pregnancy and had pre-eclampsia, however, they did not have any information on paternal smoking. The 58-gram drop in birth weight was about half that of children whose mothers did not quit smoking during pregnancy.
Dr. Gavin Pereira, epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Western Australia, who specializes in the effects of air pollution on child's health, found in his previous research that Perth's traffic pollution was increasingly the risk for about seventy per cent of young kids who suffer from serious asthma attacks. He said the findings from that latest study were very surprising for him because the pregnant women who took part in the study did not live in heavily polluted neighborhoods. "I did not really expect to see any effect, so it was pretty surprising, although some international studies have found some associations," Dr. Pereira said.
Researchers said that their results should not create any panic but rather be a warning signal for the future. According to Dr. Pereira, the population grows each year so just that alone will increase the level of traffic emissions. In addition to that, the number of vehicle kilometers travelled is expected to go up so there are plenty of reasons why the problem of air pollution is going to get worse.
In a conclusion, the experts said that while there is no reason for pregnant women to be scared, there is a recommendation for planners and developers not to build their homes in a short distance from busy roads. They added that the debate must be opened up on whether there should be a minimum distance set between new housing estates and major roads. In general, people should try to put maximum effort in order to reduce their vehicle emissions through greater use of public transportation and cleaner engine technologies.
The new findings were published in the latest edition of Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.