The researchers at QUT’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation compared more than 15,000 ultrasounds done on fetuses between 13 and 26 weeks gestation to air pollution levels within a 14km radius of the city of Brisbane.
“The study found that mothers with a higher exposure to air pollution had fetuses that were, on average, smaller in terms of abdominal circumference, head circumference and femur length,” said Dr Adrian Barnett, senior research fellow Queensland University of Technology
“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 fetus decreased significantly,” said Dr Barnett.”
Fetus size during pregnancy is important because babies that were born bigger tend to be 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.