Researchers from Brisbane have given the world yet another reason to curb pollution levels by finding that it plays an important role in shrinking the size of the foetus during pregnancy.
In the study, the research team led by Dr Adrian Barnett, senior research fellow Queensland University of Technology, based at QUT's Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, compared the foetus sizes of more than 15,000 ultrasound scans in Brisbane to air pollution levels within a 14km radius of the city.
"The study found that mothers with a higher exposure to air pollution had foetuses that were, on average, smaller in terms of abdominal circumference, head circumference and femur length," said Dr Barnett.
According to Dr Barnett, the 10-year-old study examined foetuses between 13 and 26 weeks duration.
"To our knowledge this is the first study of its kind as it uses ultrasound measurement as a direct estimate of growth, rather than using birth weight as a delayed measure of growth. When analysing scans from women at different distances to monitoring sites, we found that there was a negative relationship between pollutants such as sulphur dioxide found in diesel emissions, and ultrasound measurement. If the pollution levels were high the size of the foetus decreased significantly," said Dr Barnett."
He also said that foetus size during pregnancy was important as it was shown by research that bigger babies were healthier in childhood and adulthood,.
"Birth weight is a major predictor of later health, for example, bigger babies have been shown to have higher IQs in childhood and lower risk of cardiovascular disease in adulthood," he said.
Dr Barnett advised that it was wise for pregnant women to try to reduce their exposure to air pollution, most of which is caused by vehicles.
The study is published in the international journal Environmental Health Perspectives.