Air quality may affect health of mother and child, says Dutch study

Exposure to air pollution during pregnancy is associated with health risks for mother and child

Women in Rotterdam who have been exposed to higher concentrations of air pollution during pregnancy have a higher average blood pressure than women exposed to lower concentrations. They also have an increased risk of developing gestational hypertension. In addition, the mothers exposed to higher concentrations have an increased risk of giving birth to premature babies and the children have a lower birth weight. These are the results of joint research by Erasmus MC and TNO in the large-scale Generation R Study. Researcher Edith van den Hooven, Erasmus MC will receive her doctorate for this research on 19 April.

As part of the Generation R study, data was collected on air pollution, the course of the pregnancy and the health risks for mother and child for more than 7,000 pregnant women in Rotterdam. The women were pregnant between 2001 and 2006. The study particularly focused on the exposure to particulate matter (PM10) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) at the residential address of the pregnant women. In Rotterdam, the concentrations of these substances are especially elevated in areas near highways and busy city streets. Higher concentrations of air pollution during the pregnancy appear to be related to the blood pressure of the mother, the risk of gestational hyper tension, the risk of premature births and the birth weight of the child. Previous studies have shown that these pregnancy outcomes can have adverse effects on the health of mother and child later in life.

The associations were found in mothers who had been exposed to air pollution comparable to current levels; for particulate matter this was the case even for concentrations below the air quality standards. According to the researchers the results show that even below the current standards air pollution can have adverse health effects. They also indicate that further research is necessary among other population groups and in other areas to verify these findings and to gain a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms that can play a role in the effects of air pollution on pregnancies.

The research is part of the large-scale population study Generation R. This population study monitors the growth, development and health of 10,000 children in Rotterdam from fetal life through young adulthood. Generation R is being carried out by Erasmus MC, Erasmus University Rotterdam and the GGD Rotterdam Rijnmond (public health service).

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