Air Pollution May Give Babies a Greater Risk of Death 

The study should be a wake-up call to the public and policy-makers to protect the most vulnerable - young children.

3 min read

Breathing toxic air is harmful to all - but the more vulnerable of us are always at a greater risk.

One of the most vulnerable groups in need of protection are infants, and a new study has highlighted the specific difference between infant mortality and the air they breathe.

That is, that babies who live in areas with clean air will have a better rate of survival than those living in high air pollution localities, according to a report in The Guardian. Now while the health hazards of toxic air are well-documented, this study underlined the effect of specific toxins and pollutants in the air to infant mortality at different stages of the child's life.


What Does the Study Say?

The study was based in England and Wales and researched data from over 8 million live births between 2001 and 2012. According to The Guardian, the research team collated the data for the annual death rates of 1-year-old babies and compared that to three main pollutants in the air.

These were:

  • PM10 which comes from vehicles and waste burning
  • NO2 or Nitrogen dioxide which is released by burning fossil fuels from factories
  • SO2 or Sulfur dioxide which is also released by fossil fuel burning and metal extraction

The study controlled factors like maternal age, deprivation levels for the area and birthweight and compared the death rate for infants in the worst fifth of polluted areas with those in the best fifth.

They then found evidence that pointed to the fact that one-year-old babies had a greater chance of dying in areas of severe air pollution. Additionally, out of all the pollutants, SO2 showed a 19% worse rate of death for the babies and was associated with increased deaths within a baby’s first 28 days.

‘Not Much We Can Do About’: Policy-makers Need to Step Up

Dr Sarah Kotecha, a researcher at Cardiff University, told The Guardian that the results did leave familise with a sense of hopelessness.

“You live where you live and you can’t avoid pollution day in day out.”
Dr Sarah Kotecha

Once studies determine a link, it is up to policymakers to look at potential interventions and solutions to what is clearly a public health hazard.

The study should be a wake-up call to the general public and policy-makers.

More Research Needed

While the study is yet to be peer reviewed or published, it will be presented at the European Respiratory Society international congress in Madrid.

Besides, the study did not conclusively prove that just ir pollution was responsible for the increased death rate, it just prived a strong causal link. Other factors like indoor air pollution levels need to be accounted for as well.

Child health expert professor Mireille Toledano from Imperial College London said that while the study established that air pollution was indeed a serious public health hazard, it had many limitations. For example, it did not account for the difference in air pollution in the changing seasons or maternal smoking.

Nonetheless, while the links between air pollution and the risk of babies dying need to be further solidified, there is no doubt that severe air pollution poses great harm to infants.

(With inputs from The Guardian. )

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