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New Delhi: Expectant mothers breathing polluted air resulted in premature birth of over one million babies in India in 2010, highest in the world and twice the numbers for China, a study claimed on Thursday.
The study found that in 2010, about 2.7 million preterm births globally were associated with outdoor exposure to fine particulate matter and largest contribution to global PM2.5 associated premature births was from South and East Asia, which together contributed about 75 per cent of the total.
Noting that a pregnant woman's exposure can vary greatly depending on where she lives, the study said that in a city in China or India, for instance, the woman might inhale "more than 10 times" as much pollution as she would in rural England or France.
When a baby is born preterm (at less than 37 weeks of gestation), there is an increased risk of death or long-term physical and neurological disabilities.
There are many risk factors for preterm birth - from the mother's age, to illness, to poverty and other social factors and recent research has suggested that exposure to air pollution could also be a risk factor.
"In 2010, about 2.7 million preterm births globally - or 18 per cent of all pre-term births - were associated with outdoor exposure to fine particulate matter," said the study led by a team from The Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York, that was published in the journal Environment International.
"The largest contribution to global PM2.5-associated preterm births was from South Asia and East Asia, which together contributed about 75 per cent of the global total.
"India alone accounted for about 1 million of the total 2.7 million global estimate, and China for about another 500,000," the study.
The study said that in 2010, an estimated 14.9 million births were preterm - about 4-5 per cent of the total in some European countries, but up to 15-18 per cent in some African and South Asian countries and the human and economic costs are "enormous".
"The large contribution of South and East Asia to global PM2.5-associated preterm births was mainly due to PM2.5 associated preterm births in India at 1.1 million (0.3-1.8 million) and China at 0.5 million (0.1-0.7 million) respectively," the study said.