Study Suggests Climate Change Increasing Pregnancy Issues in Minority Communities

June 26, 2020 by Jacob Pederson

Climate change is increasing the likelihood of low birth weights, premature births, and stillbirths in minority communities, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study’s authors said while they found detrimental impacts to to pregnancy among all populations, the negative outcomes were more pronounced in historically segregated cities force many Blacks and Hispanics to live in overheated and polluted neighborhoods.

As a result, the researchers say, these groups bear the brunt of a changing, warming climate and have more difficulties associated with pregnancies.

Before reaching their conclusion, the doctors analyzed 68 studies that looked at how high ozone levels, the prevalence of particulate matter and an increase in average daily temperatures in much of America, have impacted births.

Based on that analysis, the researchers concluded there is a strong connection between climate change and problematic pregnancies, with the onus falling on the minority community.

For example, the researchers found that for every degree Celsius of warming, there is a corresponding six percent increase in the risk of a stillbirth.

In an interview with The Well News, Dr. Bruce Bekkar, the lead author of the study, explained that because heat disrupts a woman’s blood flow, the rise in temperature prevents the fetus from getting the nutrition it needs to survive.

This is particularly problematic in cities, “where minority populations are typically clustered and living in close, confined urban heat islands,” Bekkar said.

Higher temperatures in such locations result in an 11.6% increase in premature births, the study found.

“This is because a woman’s body temperature runs warmer during pregnancy, and the added heat from climate change can cause dehydration which can cause contractions to start too early,” said Dr. Nate DeNicola, senior author of the study and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at George Washington University. 

Compounding the situation are decades-old, discriminatory zoning laws, which allowed solid waste sites, landfills, hazardous waste facilities and heavy industry to be located near minority communities.

The study found the risk of low birth weight goes up by three percent for every three miles closer to a solid waste site a person lives.

The lower a child’s weight at birth, the greater the odds of death in infancy, and of developing cerebral palsy and other neurological issues, according to the National Library of Medicine.

The report found that mothers with asthma are 52% more likely to give birth prematurely in areas with high pollution. African American women are 20% more likely than White women to have asthma, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Climate change is intensifying the impacts of air pollution because of smoke from more fires and an increased amount of ground level ozone from the burning of fossil fuels and higher temperatures, said Bekkar.

“This is not a theoretical risk going forward and it’s not something happening somewhere else, it’s happening right now and here comes summer,” Bekkar said.

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