- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a report showing that the premature birth rate increased by 12% between 2014 and 2022.
- The agency hasn’t attributed the increase to a specific cause, and doctors aren’t sure what’s behind it.
- Certain health conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure can increase the risk of premature birth., as is exposure to “chemicals everywhere” and air pollution, research shows.
The share of babies born prematurely in the United States is increasing.
A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals that the premature birth rate increased by 12% between 2014 and 2022.
Doctors aren’t entirely sure what’s causing the increase, but several factors are likely playing a role, according to Dr. Manisha Gandhi.vshair of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Clinical Practice Guidelines Committee. She said factors impacting both pregnant women and their environments should be considered.
There are many risk factors for giving birth prematurely or having a baby before 37 weeks’ gestation, according to the National Institutes of Health.
These include diabetes, high blood pressure, being underweight or obese before or during pregnancy.
“We’re seeing more patients with obesity, higher risks of hypertension or preeclampsia…and more diabetes,” Gandhi said. “Potentially, some of these risk factors that lead to earlier delivery could play a role. »
The CDC estimates that about 11 percent of the U.S. adult population. – or around 38 million people – now suffer from type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
And the rate of gestational diabetes appears to be increasing.
A 2022 study by the CDC found that this rate increased by 30% between 2016 and 2020.
The proportion of people suffering from high blood pressure during pregnancy is also increasing. A 2022 study by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLB) found that women born in the 1990s and 2000s were twice as likely to have a hypertensive disorder during pregnancy as women born in the 1950s.
About 8 percent of people who give birth experience a pregnancy complication related to high blood pressure, according to the NHLB.
Psychosocial or environmental factors could also play a role, according to Gandhi.
Potentially contributing environmental factors include lack of health care during pregnancy, physical abuse, general stress and exposure to pollution, according to the CDC.
Another possible factor, one researcher discovered, is exposure to chemicals found in common plastic products.
A study recently published in the journal Lancet Planetary Health shows that exposure to phthalates, chemicals commonly used to make plastic flexible, caused 5 to 10% of premature births in 2018.
Phthalates are also nicknamed “ubiquitous chemicals” due to their abundance in plastic products. These “ubiquitous chemicals” are found in children’s toys, vinyl flooring, packaging and shampoos.
The chemicals are hormone disruptors that can impact fetal growth and placental function during pregnancy, according to Leonardo Trasande of New York University Langone Hospital, lead author of the study.
The American Chemistry Council told The Hill that the study does not show harmful consequences and that “establishing an association does not equate to establishing a causal relationship.”
Exposure to air pollution has also been identified by some researchers as a possible cause of some premature births.
Trasande, who directs NYU’s Center for Environmental Hazards, also published a study linking air pollution to such births. The 2016 study found that just over 3% of births in 2010 could be attributed to air pollution, particularly PM2.5 particles. PM2.5, also known as soot, are particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter.
“An increasing amount of these particles are actually coming from plastics,” Trasande told The Hill. “So there is a connection between the older discoveries and the more recent discoveries.”
Other sources of toxic air pollution associated with premature birth are smoke from wildfires, industrial activity, and the burning of fossil fuels.
A 2021 study found that air pollution likely contributed to 6 million premature births and about 3 million babies being born underweight in 2019.
Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch released a report finding that pregnant women living in a heavily industrialized swath of Louisiana are twice as likely to give birth preterm as the national average.
Doctors who spoke with The Hill emphasized that more research is needed to fully understand the cause of the change in premature birth rates.
“I think we just don’t know at the moment and these are not things we should presume to know,” Gandhi said.
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