Climate Change May Negatively Impact Birth Weight with Hotter Days

First Posted: Sep 29, 2015 09:45 AM EDT

Climate change may negatively affect birth weight. Scientists have found that as temperatures warm, human mothers are giving birth to children with a lower birth weight.

It's difficult to determine exactly when a pregnancy begins in rural countries that lack pregnancy tests. This means that low birth weight is the most reliable measure of whether a pregnancy has been negatively impacted by an external factor.

In addition, low birth weight infants are more susceptible to illness, face a higher risk of mortality, are more likely to develop disabilities and are less likely to attain the same level of education and income as an infant born within a healthy weight range.

In this latest study, the researchers examined the relationship among precipitation, temperature and birth weight in 19 African countries. They used high quality, detailed climate data in conjunction with extensive health data to focus on climate change and its effects on birth weight in the developing world.

"Our findings demonstrate that in the very early stages of intra-uterine development, climate change has the potential to significantly impact birth outcomes," said Kathryn Grace, one of the researchers, in a news release. "While the severity of that impact depends on where the pregnant woman lives, in this case in the developing world, we can see the potential for similar outcomes everywhere."

More specifically, the researchers found that an increase of hot days above 100 degrees during any trimester corresponded to a decrease in birth weight. Just one extra day with a temperature above 100 degrees in the second trimester corresponded to a .9 g weight decrease. This result held with a larger effect when the temperature threshold was increased to 105 degrees.

"While the results are dependent on trimester and location, the data shows that climate change-a combination of increased hot days and decreased precipitation-correlate to lower birth weights," said Grace. "At the end of the day, the services we invest in to support these developing countries won't reap the same level of benefits as long as climate change continues. Services such as education, clean water efforts and nutrition support won't be as effective. We need to work faster and different to combat the evident stresses caused by climate change."

The findings are published in the journal Global Environmental Change.

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