Preterm birth and its associations with residence and ambient vehicular traffic exposure

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Preterm birth (PTB) is a multifactorial disorder, and air pollution has been suggested to increase the risk of occurrence. However, large population studies controlling for multiple exposure measures in high-density settings with established commuter patterns are lacking.


We performed a geospatial analysis with the use of a publicly available database to identify whether residence during pregnancy, specifically with regard to exposure to traffic density and mobility in urban and suburban neighborhoods, may be a contributing risk factor for premature delivery.

Study Design:

In our cohort study, we analyzed 9004 pregnancies with as many as 4900 distinct clinical and demographic variables from Harris County, Texas. On the basis of primary residency and occupational zip code information, geospatial analysis was conducted. Data on vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and percentages of inhabitants traveling to work were collected at the zip code level and additionally grouped by the three recognized regional commuter loop high-density thoroughfares resulting from two interstate/highway belts (inner, middle, and outer loops). PTB was categorized as late (34 1/7 to 36 6/7 weeks) and early PTB (22 1/7 to 33 6/7 weeks), and unadjusted odds ratios (OR) and adjusted ORs were ascribed.


PTB prevalence in our study population was 10.1% (6.8% late and 3.3% early preterm), which is in accordance with our study and other previous studies. Prevalence of early PTB varied significantly between the regional commuter loop thoroughfares [OR for inner vs outer loop: 0.58 (95% confidence interval, 0.39–0.87), OR for middle vs outer loop, 0.74 (0.57–0.96)]. The ORs for PTB and early PTB were shown to be lower in gravidae from neighborhoods with the highest VMT/acre [OR for PTB, 0.82 (0.68–0.98), OR for early PTB, 0.78 (0.62–0.98)]. Conversely, risk of PTB and early PTB among subjects living in neighborhoods with a high percentage of inhabitants traveling to work over a greater distance demonstrated a contrary tendency [OR for PTB, 1.18 (1.03–1.35), OR for early PTB, 1.48 (1.17–1.86)]. In logistic regression models, the described association between PTB and residence withstood and could not be explained by differences in maternal age, gravidity or ethnicity, tobacco use, or history of PTB.


While PTB is of multifactorial origin, the present study shows that community-based risk factors (namely urban/suburban location, differences in traffic density exposure, and need for traveling to work along high–vehicle density thoroughfares) may influence risk for PTB. Further research focusing on previously unrecognized community-based risk factors may lead to innovative future prevention measures.

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