A baby exposed to high heat during pregnancy is at great risk for the rest of his life

A baby exposed to high heat during pregnancy is at great risk for the rest of his life
A baby exposed to high heat during pregnancy is at great risk for the rest of his life

Reading time: 2 minutes – Spotted on The Conversation

The more scientists dig, the more we discover the dangerous impacts of global warming on human health. Although several studies had already established a link between increased temperatures and the risk of premature birth and stillbirth, none had yet presented the long-term consequences for babies exposed to high heat during pregnancy. Until this alarming new investigation, shared by the media The Conversation.

The scientists in this research analyzed twenty-nine studies covering a total of more than a century of life. Some had closely followed pregnancies, while others relied on population registers which recorded the date and place of birth, making it possible to estimate the individual’s exposure to heat in utero. Their result is clear: people who were exposed to excessive heat before birth suffered alarming effects throughout their lives, both on their health and on a socioeconomic level.

Lifelong effects, sometimes unsuspected

These effects include an increased risk of heart disease and hypertension, as well as asthma and pneumonia in children. On average, the risk of childhood pneumonia increases by 85% for each degree Celsius increase during pregnancy. A link has also been established between increased heat exposure during childhood and mental illness, including an increased risk of eating disorders and schizophrenia. These effects, which would also be more significant in female fetuses, would generally lead to a lower life expectancy.

Health problems are not the only consequences: a baby exposed to high heat during pregnancy could have poorer school performance and lower income. In the United States, for example, annual income at age 30 was reduced by $56 for each additional day with temperatures above 32°C during the first trimester of the mother’s pregnancy.

How to explain all these harmful effects? The Conversation puts forward some scientific avenues. Heat, in addition to impacting the mother’s health with diseases such as preeclampsia and diabetes, directly affects the baby’s development, particularly their nervous system, leading to congenital malformations. It could even directly modify the unborn baby’s DNA by changing its epigenetic signature, a mechanism that allows us to quickly adapt to our environment by turning genes on and off.

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