Global debates on climate change impacts have long been narrowed to the rising sea levels, melting glaciers, droughts, floods, wildfires and ocean acidity.
However a new study adds to the ever-growing list of negative impacts climate change can have on human-low birth weight, a finding which may trigger hotly debated topics particularly during this year’s UN climate change conference in Paris late December.
The new findings reported in Global Environmental Change magazine showed that a pregnant woman’s exposure to reduced precipitation and an increased number of very hot days can indeed results into lower birth weight.
The first of its kind, the two-year study led by scientists at the University of Utah in USA examined the relationship among precipitation, temperature and birth weight in 19 African countries.
“Our findings demonstrate that in the very early stages of intra-uterine development, climate change has the potential to significantly impact birth outcomes. While the severity of that impact depends on where the pregnant woman lives, in this case the developing world, we can see the potential for similar outcomes everywhere,” said Kathryn Grace, geography professor at the University who led the study.
Low birth weight is defined by the World Health Organization as any baby born under 2,500 grams.
Low birth weight according to the study is the most reliable measure of whether a pregnancy has been negatively affected by an external factor.
WHO studies have also proved that low birth weight infants are more susceptible to illness, face a higher risk of mortality, are more likely to develop disabilities and are less likely to attain the same level of education and income as an infant born within a healthy weight range.
Consequently, the financial burden of a low birth weight infant can be significant.
The costs of newborn intensive care unit stays and services, re-hospitalization and long-term morbidity can add up quickly, and in developing countries where such support services are less common and physical disability is considered a social stigma, low birth weight can be particularly impactful, according to the studies .