Prenatal air pollution exposure and growth and cardio-metabolic risk in preschoolers

Environ Int. 2020 May;138:105619. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2020.105619. Epub 2020 Mar 16.


Objectives: We investigated the association between outdoor air pollutants exposure in the first trimester of pregnancy, and growth and cardio-metabolic risk at four years of age, and evaluated the mediating role of birth weight.

Methods: We included mother-child pairs (N = 1,724) from the Spanish INMA birth cohort established in 2003-2008. First trimester of pregnancy nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and fine particles (PM2.5) exposure levels were estimated. Height, weight, waist circumference, blood pressure, and lipids were measured at four years of age. Body mass index (BMI) trajectories from birth to four years were identified.

Results: Increased PM2.5 exposure in the first trimester of pregnancy was associated with decreased z-scores of weight (zWeight) and BMI (zBMI) (zWeight change per interquartile range increase in PM2.5 exposure = -0.12; 95% CI: -0.23, -0.01; zBMI change = -0.12; 95% CI: -0.23, -0.01). Higher NO2 and PM2.5 exposure was associated to a reduced risk of being in a trajectory with accelerated BMI gain, compared to children with the average trajectory. Birth weight partially mediated the association between PM2.5 and zWeight and zBMI. PM2.5 and NO2 were not associated with the other cardio-metabolic risk factors.

Conclusions: This comprehensive study of many growth and cardio-metabolic risk related outcomes suggests that air pollution exposure during pregnancy may be associated with delays in physical growth in the early years after birth. These findings imply that pregnancy exposure to air pollutants has a lasting effect on growth after birth and require follow-up at later child ages.

Keywords: Air pollution; Childhood growth; Childhood obesity; Particulate matter; Prenatal exposure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants* / analysis
  • Air Pollution* / adverse effects
  • Air Pollution* / analysis
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Maternal Exposure / adverse effects
  • Nitrogen Dioxide / analysis
  • Particulate Matter / analysis
  • Pregnancy


  • Air Pollutants
  • Particulate Matter
  • Nitrogen Dioxide