Babies are born earlier to mothers living near high traffic areas, within 400 meters of freeways and main roads, claims a research team in Australia.
The team at the Queensland University of Technology's Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation (IHBI) has pointed out that the closeness to high traffic zones could indicate that air pollution is affecting expectant mothers. Associate Professor Adrian Barnett, lead researcher in the study says that similar findings in Canada, the US, Taiwan and the Netherlands reinforce the conclusion that traffic pollution with its mix of chemicals induces early birth.
970 mothers in Logan City, south of Brisbane, were involved in a survey that questioned about their birth outcomes and socioeconomic status. Then the research team, using Geographic Information System (GIS) software, plotted each mother's address and drew concentric circles around each home out to 500 metres.
It was seen that while there was no statistically significant effect on birth times for the mothers living in the proximity of one freeway, highway or main road there was very definitely an effect when the neighbourhood included a cluster of roads. The effects kept occurring up to about 400 metres.
Pregnancy times were reduced by 4.4 per cent, from 40 weeks to 38.2 weeks, for those living closer within 400 metres of freeway clusters, and by 1.1 per cent (to 39.6 weeks) for those within the same range of a cluster of main roads. Toxins in the air and noise could be the causes of early birth.
Professor Barnett recommends policy-makers to take decisive action in keeping vulnerable population groups away from busy traffic. "High up the list would be hospitals, schools and old age people's homes. They should be kept as far away from major roads as possible," he said.
Associate Professor Peter Franklin, of the School of Population Health at the University of Western Australia states, "The increasing evidence, including the current study, needs to be considered by city and town planners as they design road networks and housing developments to cater for our growing population."