Poverty affects babies even before they are born, new study finds
Babies unborn to poorer mothers are smaller than their wealthier counterparts by mid-pregnancy, study finds, putting them at risk of a lifetime of poor health.
This is the first time that size differences have been found at such an early stage of development, and researchers at the University of Aberdeen are also the first to compare continents.
Professor Steve Turner, who led the study, said: “What this study shows is that inequality, as seen by reduced fetal life size, is present long before birth and that this poverty gap widens between 20 weeks of gestation and birth.”
The researchers analyzed data from around 22,000 mothers around the world and collected details on prenatal and birth height, and linked them to household income.
The negative health effects associated with short stature before and at birth are already known.
They include high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart attacks, asthma, ADHD, and even premature death.
Professor Turner said: “There is a well-recognized health inequality where the quality and length of life is lower among the poorest. This divide is present both within countries and between countries.
He added: “Basically, whether you live in Saudi Arabia, the United States or Europe, and taking into account factors that may affect the growth of the fetus, if your parents are poor, you will be smaller before birth. and at birth only if your parents were not poor.
“This is problematic because short stature before and after birth puts an individual at increased risk for many serious diseases later in life.”
The authors of the paper, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, said they hope the study will encourage health care providers to recognize the health risks associated with lower income for mothers and their unborn children, and to provide more support and advice to mitigate risk.
Professor Turner added: “We suggest that the mechanisms driving this inequity may be that expectant mothers from poor households have difficulty accessing or engaging in antenatal care.
“We would like to see healthcare providers around the world strive to increase their engagement with pregnant women living in poverty.
“This commitment will reward all of society by putting unborn children on the path to a longer, healthier life.”