Prenatal exposure to ambient air pollution and adverse birth outcomes: An umbrella review of 36 systematic reviews and meta-analyses
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Multiple systematic reviews and meta-analyses linked prenatal exposure to ambient air pollutants to adverse birth outcomes with mixed findings, including results indicating positive, negative, and null associations across the pregnancy periods. The objective of this study was to systematically summarise systematic reviews and meta-analyses on air pollutants and birth outcomes to assess the overall epidemiological evidence. Systematic reviews with/without meta-analyses on the association between air pollutants (NO2, CO, O3, SO2, PM2.5, and PM10) and birth outcomes (preterm birth; stillbirth; spontaneous abortion; birth weight; low birth weight, LBW; small-for-gestational-age) up to March 30, 2022 were included. We searched PubMed, CINAHL, Scopus, Medline, Embase, and the Web of Science Core Collection, systematic reviews repositories, grey literature databases, internet search engines, and references of included studies. The consistency in the directions of the effect estimates was classified as more consistent positive or negative, less consistent positive or negative, unclear, and consistently null. Next, the confidence in the direction was rated as either convincing, probable, limited-suggestive, or limited non-conclusive evidence. Final synthesis included 36 systematic reviews (21 with and 15 without meta-analyses) that contained 295 distinct primary studies. PM2.5 showed more consistent positive associations than other pollutants. The positive exposure-outcome associations based on the entire pregnancy period were more consistent than trimester-specific exposure averages. For whole pregnancy exposure, a more consistent positive association was found for PM2.5 and birth weight reductions, particulate matter and spontaneous abortion, and SO2 and LBW. Other exposure-outcome associations mostly showed less consistent positive associations and few unclear directions of associations. Almost all associations showed probable evidence. The available evidence indicates plausible causal effects of criteria air pollutants on birth outcomes. To strengthen the evidence, more high-quality studies are required, particularly from understudied settings, such as low-and-middle-income countries. However, the current evidence may warrant the adoption of the precautionary principle.
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