Genetics are responsible for about 60% to 80% of height differences between individuals, leaving roughly 40% to 20% to be decided by a storm of environmental factors. By and large, these environmental factors refer to malnutrition, but a new study identifies another height predictor for newborns still in the womb during their mother’s third trimester. According to the new study published last week in Environmental Health, these babies face an increased risk of stunted growth as they age, if exposed to sufficient levels of air pollution.
In order to fully comprehend the results of the new report, a medical distinction between merely being short and stunted growth needs to be articulated. There aren’t many health setbacks associated with being of smaller stature, in fact, shorter people tend to live longer in addition to being less likely to develop cancer, (16% higher relative risk for every extra four inches of height.)
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Stunted growth, on the other hand, refers to a reduced growth rate relative to a person’s age. This can be categorically determined via The World Health Organization’s Child Growth Standard Median; any child that is at least two deviations below their age median is offically suffering from stunting.
The Global Pollution crisis
Recently researchers at Lancaster University in England published a report unpacking the adverse impact air pollution has on developing young children residing in urban areas. These residents were found to house billions of toxic air pollution particles in their hearts, each damaging cells and cardiovascular muscles. On the back of this, came another independent report motioning that air pollution shortens children’s lives by 20 months. According to The World Health Organization, over 90% of the global population lives in toxic air contamination.
The researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, were determined to pinpoint the effects these conditions have on developing newborns. They began with a study pool comprised of 200,000 children born between February 2010 and December 2015, and then examined these subjects against peak pollution times, which occur between November and January. Children born during this window were constantly shorter than their study counterparts.
“This study adds to the evidence that air pollution also affects the health and development of the next generation. The study accounted for compounding factors like the height of the mother and whether the child is born in a rural or urban setting, but the decrease in the height of children with increased pollution levels was noted across the board,” said Sagnik Dey, who is one of the authors on the study.
Again, stature isn’t the only bargain unfortunately, as several serious chronic health complications attend instances of stunted growth, including mental cognition and even diabetes.