Beware! Light pollution can intensify risk of premature births

By Amirtha P S, Desk Reporter
  • Follow author on
Light Pollution
Representational Image

As we all known pollution is one of the major threats humankind is going to face in this generation. While pollution can be hazardous to nature it can also be detrimental to our health and a recent study has found that light pollution could increase the chances of preterm births and reduced birth weight.

A first of its kind study published in the journal ‘Southern Economic Association’ shows that light pollution can increase the possibility of preterm birth by almost 13 percent. Laura Argys, professor of economics at the University of Colorado Denver, collaborated with scientists at Lehigh University and Lafayette College to produce this study.

Skyglow, the brightness of the night sky apart from separate light sources like the moon and visible stars, is one of the most pervasive forms of light pollution. When one person is exposed to a high level of artificial brightness at night, coming from sources like streetlamps, outdoor advertising, and buildings, it lowers the ability to see the dark sky and individual stars. The study authors found that this can lead to health issues, particularly for pregnant women.

“We discovered that increased light pollution is linked to some pretty severe health challenges. In pregnant women, this includes a higher chance of delivering a baby with reduced birth weight, a shortened gestational length, and an increase in preterm births,” says Ms. Argys.

As per the reports from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), babies born too early have higher rates of death and disability. In 2018, preterm birth and low birth weight accounted for roughly 17 percent of infant deaths (deaths before one year of age).

Light pollution disturbs the human body’s biological clock which is otherwise known as the circadian rhythms. This, in turn, can cause sleep disorders that can lead to adverse birth outcomes particularly the chances of a preterm birth (childbirth before 37 weeks) by 12.9 percent, says  Muzhe Yang, the study co-author and Lehigh University Professor.

“While greater use of artificial light at night (ALAN) is often associated with greater economic prosperity, our study highlights an often-neglected health benefit of darkness, The biological clock of a human body, like all lives on the earth, needs the ‘darkness’ as part of the light-dark cycle in order to effectively regulate physiological functions, such as sleep,” said Mr. Yang.

While beneficial to the economy and society, ALAN’s consequences are clear with the study and Argys and her team hope that the research stimulates policy discussions when addressing light pollution regulations moving forward.