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One in 10 babies in the United States is born prematurely, before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Preterm birth is the leading cause of death for children under five and is linked to numerous health problems that persist throughout life. Many factors can contribute to preterm birth but air pollution -- particularly fine particulate pollution -- is increasingly being linked to the incidence of premature birth in the US and elsewhere around the world. According to a study published this week in Environmental Health Perspectives, the annual economic costs of the nearly 16,000 premature births linked to air pollution in the US each year has reached $4.33 billion.
These costs stem from both direct healthcare expenses and costs associated with lifelong health problems. "Preterm babies who survive often face a life of health complications, including chronic disease, asthma, cognitive and motor problems and psychological impairments," explains Linda Franck, chair of family health care nursing at the University of California San Francisco School of Nursing.
"To our knowledge, this is the first time that such economic estimates are reported and suggest that considerable health and economic benefits can be gained through reductions in outdoor air pollution exposure in pregnancy," write lead study author Leonardo Trasande and colleagues at New York University. MORE