Environmental risk factors associated with low birth weight: The case study of the Haifa Bay Area in Israel

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Abstract

Background

Low birth weight (LBW) is known to be associated with infant mortality and postnatal health complications. Previous studies revealed strong relationships between LBW rate and several socio-demographic factors, including ethnicity, maternal age, and family income. However, studies of association between LBW rate and environmental risk factors remain infrequent.

Study methods

We retrieved a geo-referenced data set, containing 7216 individual records of children born in 2015 in the Haifa Bay Area in Israel. Using this dataset, we analysed factors affecting LBW prevalence by applying two alternative techniques: analysis of LBW rates in small census area (SCAs) and more recently developed double kernel density (DKD) relative risk (RR) estimates.

Results

In the SCA models, LBW rate was found to be associated with proximity to petrochemical industries (B=−0.26, 95%CI=−0.30, −0.22), road density (B=0.05, 95%CI=0.02, 0.08), distance to the seashore (B=0.17, 95%CI=0.14, 0.22), PM2.5 (B=0.06, 95%CI=0.04, 0.09) and NOx (B=0.10, 95%CI=0.06, 0.13) exposure estimates. Although similar factors emerged in the DKD models as well, in most cases, the effects of these factors in the latter models were found to be stronger: proximity to petrochemical industries (B=−0.48, 95%CI= −0.51, −0.30), road density (B=0.05, 95%CI=0.02, 0.08), distance to the seashore (B=0.24, 95%CI=0.21, 0.27), PM2.5 (B=0.08, 95%CI=0.05, 0.10) and NOx (B=0.20, 95%CI=0.17, 0.23) exposure estimates. In addition, elevation above the sea level was found to be statistically significant in spatial dependence models estimated for both DKD and SCA rates (P < 0.01).

Conclusion

The analysis revealed an excess LBW rate in residential areas located close to petrochemical industries and a protective effect of seashore proximity and elevation above the sea level on the LBW rate. We attribute the latter finding to the moderating effect of elevated seashore locations on outdoor temperatures during the hot summer season.

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