Birth weight may be reduced by exposure to traffic congestion

New research published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science has established a link between busy roads and the size of newborn babies. 

The study is the first known to have looked at correlations between traffic congestion and birth rates, and examined the outcomes of 579,122 births registered to addresses located within 500 metres of roads in Texas between 2015 and 2016. 

person wearing gray shirt putting baby on scale

Vehicle and device data, specifically that which shows driving speed, was also collected, with the team working on the rule that the slower vehicles move the worse the traffic conditions are. Cross referencing both these sets identified a strong connection between higher congestion on the roads and lower birth weights. 

The outcome is particularly worrying when the US as a whole is considered. Around 11m Americans live within 150 metres of a major highway, which are known to cause high levels of noise and air pollution. Previous research has already shown that rush hour can lead to a 200% spike in emissions, which in turn means significantly larger quantities of pollutants are entering the atmosphere. 

The team looking at how busyness on the roads impacts birth weights concluded that as many as 26% of all live births in the US – some 1.2m – may involve parents and foetuses that have been exposed to traffic congestion and its atmospheric effects. Of those, around 250,000 were exposed to conditions considered to be the worst end of traffic congestion. 

It is now believed that programmes and policies looking to reduce traffic congestion may also have ‘positive co-benefits for infant health with respect to birth weight’, according to a spokesperson from the research crew. Elsewhere, recent studies have also shown that air pollution from traffic can have a significant negative effect on childhood neurological and respiratory systems. 

Image: Christian Bowen


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