Intended for healthcare professionals


Traffic pollution is linked to poor pregnancy outcomes

BMJ 2017; 359 doi: (Published 05 December 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;359:j5511
  1. Sarah J Stock, senior lecturer1,
  2. Tom Clemens, lecturer2
  1. 1Tommy’s Centre for Maternal and Fetal Health, MRC Centre for Reproductive Health, University of Edinburgh Queen's Medical Research Institute, 47 Little France Crescent, Edinburgh EH16 4TJ, UK
  2. 2Centre for Research on Environment, Society and Health (CRESH), Institute of Geography, University of Edinburgh School of Geosciences, Edinburgh, UK
  1. Correspondence to: sarah.stock{at}

Only policy makers have the power to protect women and unborn babies

The conditions that a developing baby is exposed to in the womb can affect its growth and development, with lifelong implications for health.1 Exposure to environmental chemicals and stress in utero can lead to functional changes in tissues, and predispose the child to diseases that manifest later in life. Being born small is the most well studied marker of such future ill health, with birthweight inversely correlated with cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.1

In this issue, Smith and colleagues (doi:10.1136/bmj.j5299) report that air pollution from road traffic, but not traffic noise, is associated with low birth weight at term.2 The inference is that reducing exposure to air pollution from road traffic will not only improve the health of current adult populations, but has the potential to reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases in future generations too.

The association between air pollution, pregnancy complications, and childhood illness is not new. Small particle pollution exposure in pregnancy has previously been linked to fetal growth,3 as well as preterm birth,4 stillbirth,5 and respiratory morbidity in children.6 However, …

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