58% of black mothers knew ‘nothing at all’ about impact of air pollution during pregnancy

A new report, published today, reveals that almost half of all black mothers (44%) knew ‘nothing at all’ about the impact of air pollution during pregnancy.

This first-of-its-kind research by Global Black Maternal Health, was commissioned by Impact on Urban Health and spoke directly to black pregnant women and mothers in London about the effects of air pollution on unborn children. The report also includes 14 recommendations for policymakers and healthcare professional bodies.woman carrying baby

The report found that the majority of black mothers (66%) know a little about the impact of air pollution on their health, with just over a third (38%) stating that they know a lot. However, when asked about the effects of air pollution on health during pregnancy, almost half (44%) stated that they knew nothing at all, rising to 58% who felt that they knew nothing at all when it came to the health of their baby in the womb. 

Whilst the majority of respondents said they were concerned or somewhat concerned about the impact of air pollution on their health, their baby’s health, and the long-term impact of air pollution on their child once born, the findings show that just over a quarter (26%-31%) reported that they were not at all concerned. This rises to 49% for black Caribbean respondents, in comparison to 25% of black African and 17.5% of mixed respondents.

Agnes Agyepong, CEO of Global Black Maternal Health said: ‘We wanted to commission this report to take the first step towards truly understanding the disproportionate impact that air pollution can have on black communities. Many times reports show race is an increased risk factor, but rarely do these reports delve into the contextual nuances and systematic issues at play. Previous studies of air pollution have not included the very women who are amongst the most impacted. We stand at a crucial crossroads. We have the power to effect change, and to challenge the systems that perpetuate these disparities, and it starts with amplifying the voices of Black women.’

The majority of respondents (78%) believed the main cause of air pollution in their area to be transport and traffic. It found that respondents were most concerned about ‘smoke and vapour’ and ‘damp and mould’, and less concerned about building materials, cooking appliances, heating, and burning candles and incense. 

The report also indicates the positive effects of education on action too, with 54% of respondents indicating that they had made some changes to their lifestyle in their current or most recent survey, but over a third (39%) still had not. Some mothers could not for various reasons, including systemic barriers to action (for example, having a limited choice about the area in which they live).

Dr Karen Joash, Consultant in Obstetrics and Gynaecology said: ‘It is now known that particles from air pollutants reach the placenta interface as evidenced by microscopic studies. These particles are likely to lead to epigenetic changes and imprinting which is passed through the generations to have long lasting health effects in these communities. This simply demonstrates the wider determinant of health. When the air that communities breathe brings disease rather than life it leads to inequitable outcomes from birth. The findings of this report must trigger change and trigger research, system and policy change to lead to cleaner air for all.’

Nikita Sinclair, Portfolio Manager at Impact on Urban Health, added: ‘As the first-ever air pollution study speaking directly to black mothers and black pregnant women, this research will bring previously unheard experiences to life. Perspectives uncovered through this partnership will challenge policymakers and professional bodies to do more to protect the health of black mothers and babies in cities.’

The report recommends that efforts must now be made to convey the health impacts of air pollution to those communities deemed most at risk in a way that is meaningful and engaging. There are clear avenues for offering this education within antenatal care. 

Recommendations include policy-level action to actively drive down the levels of pollution in the worst affected areas, increasing awareness and education of air pollution both inside and outside of the home and building a bridge between communities that are most affected and policymakers. 


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11 months ago

All well & good (if changes can be made and more information given out) but what about white or brown mothers, please? If almost half of all black mothers (44%) knew ‘nothing at all’ about the impact of air pollution during pregnancy”, how does that comapre to the rest of our rather mixed population? Could well be that half of ALL UK mothers-to-be are uninformed.

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