Foetus Size Decreases Due To Air Pollution

A recent 10-year study at the Queensland University of Technology found that foetus size decreases due to air pollution. The study showed that mothers exposed to higher levels of air pollution had fetuses that are on average significantly smaller in terms of femur length and abdominal as well as head circumference. Dr. Adrian Barnett (Senior Research Fellow at QUT) and Dr. Craig Hansen (US Environment Protection Agency) analysed 15,000 ultrasound scans of fetuses between 13-26 weeks duration. They compared foetus size to air pollution levels that the mothers were exposed to during their pregnancy. Dr. Barnett said about the finding of the study that: "there was a negative relationship between pollutants such as sulphur dioxide found in diesel emission, and ultrasound measurements. If the pollution levels were high the size of the foetus decreased significantly."

Dr. Barnett says that fetus size is crucial, because "birth weight is a major predictor of later health…bigger babies have been shown to have higher IQs in childhood and lower risk of cardiovascular disease in adulthood." He points out, however, that it is a significant problem that people are often ignorant of the level of air pollution they are exposed to. "While some people may think there is no air pollution in Brisbane because the air looks so clean, you have to remember that most air pollutants are not visible to the naked eye…so although the actual levels of pollution are low, our exposure to whatever is out there is relatively high." Based on his research Dr. Barnett recommends that "where possible pregnant women reduce their exposure to air pollution."

If you would like to find out more on how to improve the indoor air in your home, visit our Indoor Air Pollution page.

  • Environmental Health Perspectives 116 362-369; The Effect of Ambient Air Pollution During Early Pregnancy on Fetal Ultrasonic Measurements During Mid-Pregnancy; Hansen CA, Barnett AG, Pritchard G (2008); featured also on ABC TV and Radio, Channels 7, 9 and 10, and the major national newspapers.
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