Traffic pollution is linked to poor pregnancy outcomes

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The conditions that a developing baby is exposed to in the womb can affect its growth and development, with lifelong implications for health.1 Exposure to environmental chemicals and stress in utero can lead to functional changes in tissues, and predispose the child to diseases that manifest later in life. Being born small is the most well studied marker of such future ill health, with birthweight inversely correlated with cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.1

In this issue, Smith and colleagues (doi:10.1136/bmj.j5299) report that air pollution from road traffic, but not traffic noise, is associated with low birth weight at term.2 The inference is that reducing exposure to air pollution from road traffic will not only improve the health of current adult populations, but has the potential to reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases in future generations too.
The association between air pollution, pregnancy complications, and childhood illness is not new. Small particle pollution exposure in pregnancy has previously been linked to fetal growth,3 as well as preterm birth,4 stillbirth,5 and respiratory morbidity in children.6 However, while these associations are biologically plausible, underlying causal mechanisms are not yet established. In their retrospective cohort study of pregnant women and their babies in London, Smith and colleagues distinguish between particulate matter from primary exhaust pollution and from other particle pollution sources, which is a helpful step towards isolating sources and composition of particle pollution that are most harmful.2
Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Medical Journal (BMJ)
Publication statusPublished - 5 Dec 2017


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