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Longer, intense heatwaves linked with rise in premature births: Study

Study links heat waves to rise in premature births, with stronger impact on younger, minority mothers. Research suggests temperature increases may disproportionately affect vulnerable populations.

Written By: Rahul Pratyush @29_pratyush New Delhi Published on: May 28, 2024 8:53 IST
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Image Source : SOCIAL Longer, intense heatwaves linked with rise in premature births: Study

A recent study has established a connection between rising rates of premature births during periods of intense and prolonged heat waves. Scientists, including those from the University of Nevada, have projected alterations in the frequency of premature and early-term births due to heatwave conditions. Heatwaves are defined as periods of exceptionally high temperatures compared to the typical climate of a specific area.

The scientists studied 5.3 crore births in the top 50 urban areas of the United States spanning 25 years from 1993 to 2017. They focused on the daily occurrences of premature and early-term births. A full-term pregnancy typically lasts around 40 weeks, with births before 37 weeks considered premature and those between 37 and 39 weeks considered early-term.

The researchers found that over the 25-year period, preterm births increased by 2 per cent, while early-term births increased by 1 per cent, following a four consecutive day period during which each day's average temperature was among the hottest 2.5 per cent for that region.

"Each 1 degree Celsius increase in mean temperature above the threshold was associated with a 1 per cent increase in the rate of both preterm and early-term birth," the authors wrote in the study published in The Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) Network Open.

The research also found that for the same exposure to heatwaves, preterm and early-term births increased by more numbers in women younger than 30 years of age, having lower education levels and belonging to minority groups. They analysed the pregnancies of mothers with a high school education or less, from a racial minority group or of Hispanic ethnicity, and age younger than 30 years.

"Among this group, the rate ratio for preterm birth was 1.04, and the rate ratio for early-term birth was 1.03 after 4 consecutive hot days," the authors wrote.

"Increases (in preterm and early-term birth rates) were more pronounced for heatwaves of longer duration and higher temperatures and among population subgroups associated with lower socioeconomic status," they wrote.

The team also wrote that "modest but robust elevated associations were the strongest in the 4 days preceding birth and for longer durations of heat and higher temperatures." According to the researchers, this was the first study to provide compelling population-level evidence of increased preterm and early-term birth rates in response to heat waves. Using national birth data over the recent decades, the study was the largest one to date addressing this aspect, they said. 

"Extreme heat events have implications for perinatal health. The findings also add to evidence that the effects of extreme heat events are not distributed evenly among population subgroups," the authors wrote.

The 5.3 crore births that were analysed formed roughly half of all US births between 1993 and 2017, according to the authors.

Data was included from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

(with PTI inputs)

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