How Green Is Your Baby?
A surprising new study by researchers at Oregon State University has concluded that women who are pregnant and give birth in greener surroundings are more likely to have better birth outcomes than women who are living in urban landscapes devoid of green, living things. Basically, say researchers, mothers who live in greener neighborhoods are more likely to have full-term, full-weight babies than women from neighborhoods with less greenery.
Of course, this is just the kind of observational study that can easily lead to false conclusions. I reported yesterday that some journalists have speculated that wearing a bra may be linked to a greater risk of developing breast cancer, based primarily on the observation that women in developed countries are more likely to get breast cancer—and to wear a bra. But the link was non-existent. If anything, the observed disparity probably has more to do with differences in diet or lifestyle than choice of clothing.
So investigators in Oregon were cautious. Perry Hystad, an environmental epidemiologist in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State, and lead author of the study, was surprised by the results. “We expected the association between greenness and birth outcomes to disappear once we accounted for other environmental exposures such as air pollution and noise. The research really suggests that greenness affects birth outcomes in other ways, such as psychologically or socially.”
In this instance, unlikely as it may seem, exposure to greenery appears to convey some sort of advantage to pregnant women and their developing babies. The incidence of “very pre-term” births was 20% lower among women from plant and tree-filled neighborhoods, compared to women living in concrete urban jungles. Needless to say, babies born early and/or undersized have greater health and developmental challenges than normal-weight babies.
“We know a lot about the negative influences such as living closer to major roads, but demonstrating that a design choice can have benefits is really uplifting,” said Michael Brauer of the University of British Columbia, the study's senior author, in a press release. “With the high cost of healthcare, modifying urban design features such as increasing green space may turn out to be extremely cost-effective strategies to prevent disease, while at the same time also providing ecological benefits.”
And to think Kermit the Frog said “it’s not easy being green…”