A Montreal study, looking at 100 000 births over five years, concluded that women who live in rich neighbourhoods and near a highway (for example, women living in lower Westmount), have a 58% greater chance of giving birth prematurely.
The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, could have repercussions internationally, according to the researchers.
The lead author, Dr. Mélissa Généreux, notes that it is easier to spot birth patterns in rich neighbourhoods where pregnant women live close to highways, because they had been "less in contact with other risk factors that are present in low-income neighbourhoods" (my translation). Mothers in rich neighbourhoods living within 200 metres of a highway also had an 81% greater risk of having a low-birth weight baby, the study shows.
How close is 200 metres? This map, produced by the Direction de santé publique de Montreal, shows the 200 metre buffer zone around the Turcot Interchange. For Westmount, we are talking about the whole area south of the St. Catherine Street-Dorchester corridor. Some of Westmount's largest apartment buildings are along this corridor; this part of Westmount is home to thousands of residents. For those who have the patience, the complete Généreux study is found here.
Pre-term births are "a national catastrophe", according to Dr. Annie Janvier of the CHU Sainte Justine, in an interview with CTV News. Premature birth rates jumped 25% in about 10 years, a Canadian Institute for Health Information study shows, leaping from 6.6% to 8.1%. One in seven of the 350 000 babies born in Canada in 2006-2007 were premature or small, the report states.
The rate of premature births is steadily on the rise, but so is the cost to the health care system. A March of Dimes study shows a preemie costs 12 times as much in medical costs as a natural birth baby, costing 26$B to the US Health System annually. One in eight children are born pre-term in the US, every year.
Modern science enables doctors to save about 90% of premature infants born under 2lbs.