Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Giving Birth to Convincing Evidence

Six women who gave birth to relatively healthy kids during the 2008 Olympics
Ah... the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games were memorable, mostly because of the amazing blue skies we had for most of the time.

That's because factories and construction sites in the surrounding areas were forced to close, imposing an unwanted holiday on those employees, and drivers could only use the roads if their license plate number ended in either an odd or even digit.

Afterward the Summer Games were over, many residents wished the light traffic would continue as well as the blue skies, but it was not to be. And these days pollution is pretty bad.

Some scientists took the Olympics as an opportunity to measure the health of babies born during that period.

The results? Babies born to mothers whose eighth month of pregnancy fell between August 8 and September 24, 2008, were an average 23 grams heavier than those born in the same period in the years before and after.

"Twenty-three grams doesn't seem big... but for a baby with already very low weight it's a big difference," said Duke University Professor Jim Zhang Junfeng, who worked on the report.

The study was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives and looked at birth data from 83,672 babies who were born full-term and whose mothers lived in Xicheng, Haidian, Fengtai and Chaoyang districts in Beijing from 2007 to 2009.

About 5,000 of these women had their pregnancies coincide during the Olympics. About the same number of women gave birth during the same period in 2007 and 2009 when there were no pollution reduction measures in place.

Overall babies born in 2008 had an average weight of 3.4kg, and those weighing less than 1.5kg showed inhibited growth and cognitive development, and were more likely to suffer from chronic diseases later on in life.

The last trimester is when the fetus experiences the most rapid period of development.

The researchers strongly believe pollutants interfered with this period of rapid development, and not the mother's age, education, residential district, gestational age, or pregnancy complications.

"In China everyone has a single child. They put whatever resources they have into their children," said Professor Wong Chit-ming, an expert on air pollution at the University of Hong Kong, who was not involved in the study. "This [paper] sends a strong political [message] to tackle pollution."

With the recent release of the documentary Under The Dome and now this scientific study, these only add more ammunition to ordinary mainland Chinese residents to push for the Chinese government to do more to tackle pollution.

It is hindering the health of future Chinese citizens, which is probably partly why Beijing has announced economic growth slowing to 7 percent, even though there is a slow down, partly attributed to global demand dropping for Chinese goods, and President Xi Jinping's crackdown on corruption and lavish spending.

The study is very telling and hopefully it and other properly-conducted studies will prove to the government the health and well being of its people are far more important than GDP numbers...

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