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    Original Investigation
    Environmental Health
    June 18, 2020

    Association of Air Pollution and Heat Exposure With Preterm Birth, Low Birth Weight, and Stillbirth in the US: A Systematic Review

    Author Affiliations
    • 1Retired from Southern California Permanente Medical Group, San Diego
    • 2The University of Texas McGovern Medical School, Houston
    • 3California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, Air and Climate Epidemiology Section, Oakland
    • 4Department of Environmental Health Sciences, University of California Berkeley School of Public Health, Berkeley
    • 5George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Washington, DC
    JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(6):e208243. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.8243
    Key Points español 中文 (chinese)

    Question  Are increases in air pollutant or heat exposure related to climate change associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as preterm birth, low birth weight, and stillbirth, in the US?

    Findings  In this systematic review of 57 of 68 studies including a total of 32 798 152 births, there was a statistically significant association between heat, ozone, or fine particulate matter and adverse pregnancy outcomes. Heterogeneous studies from across the US revealed positive findings in each analysis of exposure and outcome.

    Meaning  The findings suggest that exacerbation of air pollution and heat exposure related to climate change may be significantly associated with risk to pregnancy outcomes in the US.

    Abstract

    Importance  Knowledge of whether serious adverse pregnancy outcomes are associated with increasingly widespread effects of climate change in the US would be crucial for the obstetrical medical community and for women and families across the country.

    Objective  To investigate prenatal exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5), ozone, and heat, and the association of these factors with preterm birth, low birth weight, and stillbirth.

    Evidence Review  This systematic review involved a comprehensive search for primary literature in Cochrane Library, Cochrane Collaboration Registry of Controlled Trials, PubMed, ClinicalTrials.gov website, and MEDLINE. Qualifying primary research studies included human participants in US populations that were published in English between January 1, 2007, and April 30, 2019. Included articles analyzed the associations between air pollutants or heat and obstetrical outcomes. Comparative observational cohort studies and cross-sectional studies with comparators were included, without minimum sample size. Additional articles found through reference review were also considered. Articles analyzing other obstetrical outcomes, non-US populations, and reviews were excluded. Two reviewers independently determined study eligibility. The Arskey and O’Malley scoping review framework was used. Data extraction was performed according to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses (PRISMA) reporting guideline.

    Findings  Of the 1851 articles identified, 68 met the inclusion criteria. Overall, 32 798 152 births were analyzed, with a mean (SD) of 565 485 (783 278) births per study. A total of 57 studies (48 of 58 [84%] on air pollutants; 9 of 10 [90%] on heat) showed a significant association of air pollutant and heat exposure with birth outcomes. Positive associations were found across all US geographic regions. Exposure to PM2.5 or ozone was associated with increased risk of preterm birth in 19 of 24 studies (79%) and low birth weight in 25 of 29 studies (86%). The subpopulations at highest risk were persons with asthma and minority groups, especially black mothers. Accurate comparisons of risk were limited by differences in study design, exposure measurement, population demographics, and seasonality.

    Conclusions and Relevance  This review suggests that increasingly common environmental exposures exacerbated by climate change are significantly associated with serious adverse pregnancy outcomes across the US.

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