Rainforest in Chiapas, Mexico. Photo: Wikimedia.

Deforestation harms newborns’ health – a hidden environmental cost

Deforestation isn’t just an environmental and biodiversity issue. It’s recognized that it also harms human health. However, its effect on infant health has hardly been investigated. A recent study in Mexico sheds light on the impact of deforestation on newborns. The research reveals a hidden cost that affects the most vulnerable population.

The researchers analyzed birth certificate data from Mexican municipalities between 2011 and 2021, combined with satellite-derived deforestation rates. They found that increased deforestation results in:

  • Reduced birth weight: For every 10 percentage points that deforestation increases, newborns weigh 19 grams less on average. That might not sound like much, but it matters—a lower birth weight can lead to health complications later in life.
  • Higher rates of Low Birth Weight (LBW): Deforestation raised the probability of LBW by 0.43% points. LBW babies face increased risks of developmental delays and health problems.
  • Apgar scores decline: The Apgar score assesses a newborn’s overall health at birth. More deforestation meant lower Apgar scores—indicating potential health challenges.

These effects are consistently observed even after controlling for different definitions of forest cover, excluding data during the COVID-19 pandemic, and limiting the analysis to municipalities with at least 2% forest coverage.

“Our findings underscore that ecosystems provide us with services that frequently go unnoticed,” says EfD Researcher Alejandro Lopez-Feldman, one of the authors.

Deforestation can cause soil erosion, decrease water quality, and increase air pollution, The loss of trees and vegetation may elevate exposure to harmful chemicals and toxins and heighten the risk of vector-borne diseases. All of which can negatively impact the health of pregnant women and their infants.

Mexico has a high number of low birth weight (LBW), considerably higher than the average for OECD countries and many countries in Latin America. Additionally, deforestation in Mexico is an ongoing problem.

”The outgoing Mexican government has not paid enough attention to deforestation. In fact, it has been responsible for causing an increase in deforestation due to the construction of the so-called “Tren Maya” in the Yucatan peninsula. I hope that the upcoming federal government takes this issue more seriously and implements measures to protect Mexico’s forests and the health of its citizens at the same time,” notes Alejandro Lopez-Feldman.

This study provides evidence that deforestation directly impairs newborn health in Mexico, highlighting an important and underappreciated environmental cost with long-term implications for human health.

Read the full paper!


By: Petra Hansson

News | 20 June 2024