A new study released Tuesday found air pollution to be the likely cause of millions of babies being born prematurely in 2019. This can have lasting effects on infants all the way into adulthood because they are born underweight and are more likely to develop illnesses.

The World Health Organization estimated that approximately 90% of the world lives with outdoor air pollution, and 50% of the population also lives with indoor pollution. 

This is the first study to have been done on the effects of air pollution on pregnancy. An estimated 12,000 births were affected by pollution in the US, and around 6 million premature births were linked to air pollution worldwide. Areas where people cooked with indoor fires experienced significantly higher numbers of premature births.

Lead author Rakesh Ghosh said, “The air pollution-attributable burden is enormous, yet with sufficient effort, it could be largely mitigated.”

In a related study conducted by the same team, they found that pollution was the cause of 500,000 infant deaths in 2019 worldwide.

Ghosh said, “With this new, global, and more rigorously generated evidence, 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.”  

Babies born prematurely are at a significant disadvantage, which makes this study all the more alarming. Sadly, we can only expect these numbers to increase as air pollution continues to worsen.

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