Climate change is leading to premature births in the Brazilian Amazon


Extreme weather patterns and flooding worsened by climate change are adversely affecting the health of babies born in the Amazon rainforest.

Luke Parry at Lancaster University, UK, and his colleagues compared levels of rainfall with the birth weights and and pregnancy duration of nearly 300,000 babies born between 2006 and 2017 in the Brazilian Amazon. They found that babies in riverside communities were more likely to be born premature (before 37 weeks) and underweight following extreme weather like floods and droughts. Low birth weights and prematurity are associated with negative outcomes in education, health and income throughout life and subsequent generations.

Babies born after periods of extreme rainfall were on average 183 grams lighter than those born at other times, with the gap increasing to 646 grams in the most socioeconomically disadvantaged groups. This difference is higher than in previous studies examining the impact of extreme weather on babies in other countries such as India, Mexico and Vietnam. The effect was present even when controlling for pregnancy duration – in other words, the lower birth weight wasn’t solely due to prematurity.

Floods in the Amazon following extreme weather mean pregnant women have less access to nutritious food due to crop failure and are more likely to contract infectious diseases spread by mosquitoes, which thrive in wet conditions. Both are likely to contribute to low birth weight and premature birth. Anxiety and stress following flooding may also play a role, say the researchers.

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New Scientist, 1 March 2021