Babies of Mothers Who Live Close to the Airport Are More Likely to Have Low Birth Weight
Wed, April 14, 2021

Babies of Mothers Who Live Close to the Airport Are More Likely to Have Low Birth Weight


Prolonged exposure to noise is not just annoying but has been shown to cause a range of health problems, such as stress, productivity losses in the workplace, poor concentration, fatigue, and communication difficulties from lack of sleep. Also, it can lead to a more serious health problem, such as tinnitus, hearing loss, cognitive impairment, and increased risk of strokes and heart attack.

Airplane noise and fetal health

Now, researchers from the University of Colorado Denver found a link between airplane noise and fetal health. They said that the likelihood of having a low birth weight baby is increased if the mother lives close to the airport, exposed to over 55 dB noise levels, and in the direction of the runway, published Medical Xpress.

Laura Argys, Ph.D., professor of economics at CU Denver, and team examined the residential neighborhoods that are impacted by airplane flight patterns from Newark Liberty international airport in New Jersey. It is one of the biggest airports in the US.

The authors said that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) initiated a project called the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) to make flying more predictable, efficient, and safer by using a satellite monitoring system. Instead of using ground-based radar to receive aircraft speed, direction, and a position to guide airplanes, NextGen uses a satellite-based system of air traffic management. This led to an increased number of planes flying in the air simultaneously, closer together, and on the same route. Thus, it minimizes flight duration. However, the innovation has unintended consequences to residential areas in locations along the flight path.

A 17% increased risk of having an LBW baby

Argys and colleagues examined the birth records from 2004 to 2016. They then analyzed the National Transportation noise data and the mother’s home address. Results show that mothers living near the airport and in the runway direction have a 17% increased risk of having a low birth weight baby.

The researchers said that residents near Newark airport were caught off guard by the increase of landing planes since the NextGen changes were exempted from typical environment reviews by the government and public hearings. One resident said, there was a “constant barrage of airplanes flying over homes.” Argys believe it is important for researchers to determine the circumstances in which changes in noise exposure are outside the control of the residents.

Study co-author Muzhe Yang said that the National Transportation noise data offered them a map, which shows a sharp change in noise exposure near the airport. Indeed, the NextGen project “created a narrow band around the runways, which is a noise pollution hotspot.” The authors urged the country’s policymakers to deeply consider the tradeoff between infant health and flight pattern optimization.



Low birth weight: how it affects the mother and the baby

Low birth weight is the medical classification for a baby who weighs less than 5 lbs 5 oz or 2,500 grams at birth. Family members of an LBW rate baby need to be extra vigilant to make sure that the child stays healthy. There are other causes why babies are born small. It could be because they were born early or they were born on time but didn’t grow enough during pregnancy, which is called intrauterine growth restriction.

According to Very Well Family, many people think that having a baby that is just small but born on time or a baby who’s born a little early will not cause any problems. However, LBW babies may have trouble regulating their blood sugar as they sometimes use sugar faster than they can replace it. They may also have issues with internal organ function. Such include problems with the function of their brain, intestines, lungs, heart, and more. Small babies may also have problems staying warm. This is because they don’t have enough fat to keep them warm and may need to spend time in an incubator. Smaller babies are also not always strong enough to bottle-feed or breastfeed well. As such, they may need help in taking enough calories to grow.



UNICEF shares that nearly 15% of babies worldwide are born with low birthweight. In 2015, an estimated 20.5 million newborns born globally suffered from low birth weight. These babies were more likely to die in the first month of life and those who survived are at risk of facing lifelong consequences, such as stunted growth, adult-onset chronic conditions (diabetes, obesity), and lower IQ. To grow a healthy baby, mothers need adequate antenatal care, a clean environment, good nutrition, and rest.

Countries with a high prevalence of low birth weight in the same period were Nepal (21.8%), Philippines (20.1%), Namibia (15.5%), Angola (15.2%), Botswana (15.6%), Madagascar (17.1%), Turkey (11.4%), and Guyana (15.6%).

Meanwhile, there were 313,752 babies born less than 2,500 grams in the US, based on CDC data. States with the highest percent of babies born LBW in 2018 were Mississippi (12.1%), Louisiana (10.8%), Alabama (10.7%), Georgia (10.1%), and South Carolina (9.6%).


Busiest airports in the US

Furthermore, the World Airport Codes share the busiest airports in the US by passenger numbers. Top in the list is the Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport found in Georgia with 51,866,464 passengers in 2018 and 50,251,964 in 2017. Other airports mentioned are the Los Angeles International Airport (42,626,783 passengers in 2018), O'Hare International Airport (39,874,879), Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (32,800,721), and Denver International Airport (31,363,573). The Newark Liberty International Airport, which was the focus of the University of Colorado Denver research, had 22,798,354 passengers and ranked 11th in the busiest airports in the US.



In 2018, Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health also conducted a case study on La Guardia Airport (New York) and found that the health costs linked with noise from changing flight patterns overpopulated urban landscape outweigh the benefits of having an optimized airport flight. Peter Muenning, MD, professor of Health Policy and Management at the Mailman School, mentioned that although the systems improve flight efficiency, the increased noise associated with flight patterns pose serious health threats to nearby communities.

We must be reminded that a good start in life begins in the womb. As such, there is a strong need for careful study of the infant health impacts of optimizing airport flight patterns.