Climate change poses a significant threat to public health, with global warming being a crucial aspect of this challenge. Rising temperatures have been linked to adverse health outcomes, particularly in vulnerable populations such as pregnant women and children. The impact of heat exposure during pregnancy on the future health and socioeconomic status of the baby is an area that requires further exploration and understanding.

A comprehensive systematic review was conducted to analyze existing research on the long-term effects of heat exposure during pregnancy on the health and well-being of individuals later in life. The review highlighted that individuals who were exposed to excessive heat in utero experienced alarming lifelong effects. Studies varied in their measurement of heat exposure, with some focusing on average air temperature and others considering factors like humidity. Researchers noted the importance of defining dangerous levels of heat based on location, context, and individual vulnerabilities.

The review included 29 studies spanning over a century, which allowed for a thorough examination of the effects of heat exposure across an individual’s lifespan. Findings revealed a correlation between increased heat exposure during pregnancy and negative outcomes later in life, such as lower educational achievements and reduced income. Additionally, health implications like heart disease, hypertension, childhood asthma, and pneumonia were linked to in utero heat exposure.

While the majority of studies were conducted in high-income countries with cooler climates, the impact of heat exposure during pregnancy on long-term health was significant. Studies in Africa showed increased risks of malnutrition in children, while research in the US found a connection between heat exposure and childhood obesity. Mental health was also affected, with studies reporting higher risks of eating disorders and schizophrenia among individuals exposed to heat in the womb.

Experts suggest that the effects of heat exposure during pregnancy on unborn babies occur through multiple pathways. These include worsening maternal health, impacting the baby’s development (especially the nervous system), increasing the risk of preterm birth, and influencing the unborn baby’s DNA. Changes in the epigenetic signature and telomeres, which are linked to lifespan, were noted as potential mechanisms through which heat exposure affects the unborn baby.

The research underscores the urgent need for further investigation into the effects of heat exposure during pregnancy and the mechanisms underlying these impacts. Immediate action at the individual, community, and global levels is crucial to protect pregnant women and their unborn babies from the adverse consequences of heat exposure. It is a moral imperative to advocate for those who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change and who bear no responsibility for its emergence.

Health

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