30C heat increases chance of premature births, German study reveals
A university study out of Hamburg has found that the increasingly regular extreme heat found during European summers increases the chance of premature births. Researchers warn that the rates could rise dramatically over the next decade if countermeasures are not taken.
Extreme heat encourages premature births
A study by researchers at the Hamburg-Eppendorf University Hospital, published in the EBioMedicine medical journal, has found that increased global temperatures caused by climate change increase the risk of premature births during the later stages of pregnancy.
In recent years, heat days or Hitzetage - days where the temperature reaches 30 degrees celsius or above - have occurred earlier in the summer and more regularly across Germany and Europe. According to the study, the risk of premature birth is increased by 20 percent in 30-degree weather. In temperatures of 35 degrees, the risk is increased by 45 percent.
During their studies, researchers at the hospital found that the likelihood of premature birth was increased during consecutive hot days. “Expectant mothers were obviously able to bridge one or two hot days,” said research leader Petra Arck. However, if there are consecutive days, particularly those with high humidity, the risk of premature birth is increased.
Premature birth risk will significantly increase by 2033
According to the European Commission, about 500.000 babies are born prematurely in Europe every year. Across the world, every 10th baby is born prematurely, but according to the Hamburg study, this figure could increase to every sixth child by 2033.
To reach their conclusion, Arck and her team studied the medical records of 42.000 patients who had given birth at the university hospital over the past 20 years. These records were compared alongside climate tables from Hamburg weather reports, particularly between the months of March to September.
Arck’s hypothesis that one in six births will be premature by 2033 is based on current climate projections of how global temperatures will rise if no effective measures are urgently adopted to avoid climate feedback loops and tipping points, such as permafrost thawing and cascading forest loss.
The study from the German university concludes by encouraging healthcare systems, doctors and obstetricians to introduce concrete healthcare measures, such as more regularly monitoring expectant parents during periods of extreme heat.
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