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How air pollution affects our unborn children





Sponsored Editorial: Produced in association with Transport for London

Babies born to mothers living in areas with increased levels of air pollution in London are more likely to suffer ill health.

Air pollution has been linked to cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease – and it’s particularly affecting young children, even when they’re in the womb.

Dr Karen Joash, consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology at Queen Charlotte's and Chelsea Hospital and expert adviser to Global Black Maternal Health.
Dr Karen Joash, consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology at Queen Charlotte's and Chelsea Hospital and expert adviser to Global Black Maternal Health.

Exposure to air pollution can affect a baby growing in the womb in a number of ways, explains Dr Karen Joash, consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology at Queen Charlotte's and Chelsea Hospital and expert adviser to Global Black Maternal Health, increasing the risks for low birth weight, premature birth, restricted growth and stillbirth.

Pregnancy and early childhood are critical times for the development of our bodies and the time during which the most rapid changes take place. There is a growing body of evidence that links exposure to air pollution and adverse pregnancy outcomes. Air pollution particles can cross through the placenta and have the potential to harm the baby and its developing organs.

‘An issue that affects us all’

As Dr Joash makes clear, this is an issue that affects us all: “we know that some of those communities that are at risk of poor outcomes, such as dying during pregnancy or still birth, live in those most polluted areas. If those communities are disproportionately affected, then everyone is affected by this to differing degrees. It affects every pregnant woman if she lives in that environment and it affects every child, no matter the colour of their skin.”

Babies born to mothers living in areas with increased levels of air pollution in London are more likely to suffer ill health.
Babies born to mothers living in areas with increased levels of air pollution in London are more likely to suffer ill health.

‘Now is the time to make a difference’

The growing evidence linking maternal exposure to air pollution with negative pregnancy outcomes makes it “absolutely vital” to work towards cleaner air in our cities for public health, she says, with the expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone in London a key step to help improve the health of the 5 million people living in the outer boroughs.

“This is something that can help make a difference to the here and now,” says Dr Joash. “The ULEZ expansion is essential: air pollution is preventable, and we need action to address it.

Babies born to mothers living in areas with increased levels of air pollution in London are more likely to suffer ill health.
Babies born to mothers living in areas with increased levels of air pollution in London are more likely to suffer ill health.

“It is about you living your life to the full with disease-free years, with healthy aging; not having to stop work because your blood pressure is too high, not having to stay in hospital for asthma, or being more prone to chest infections as your lungs have been damaged by air pollution particles.”

About the ULEZ expansion

From 29 August 2023, the Ultra Low Emission Zone will be expanded to create one single zone across all London boroughs, to help clear London’s air and improve health.

Some disabled drivers and vehicle types may also qualify for a grace period (temporary exemption) from the ULEZ.

For more information on the ULEZ expansion, including an interactive map to check your postcode, click here.



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