Academic Minute Podcast

Jun Wu, University of California, Irvine – Examining Effects of Environment on Preterm Birth

Nature or nurture?

Today on The Academic Minute: Jun Wu, professor of environment and occupational health at the University of California, Irvine program in public health, says your environment can play a role in when nurturing begins.

Jun Wu, PhD, is a Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health at the UCI Program in Public Health. Dr. Wu’s interests focus on population-based research of environmental exposure assessment, environmental epidemiology, and environmental health disparity. She has extensive experience and knowledge in examining the influences of various environmental exposures (e.g. air pollution, climate, and built environment such as green space, neighborhood resources, walkability) on reproductive outcomes (e.g. maternal and fetal health), children’s health, and other health endpoints. She also has strong interest in research on environmental justice and environmental health disparity, particularly working in partner with communities.

Examining Effects of Environment on Preterm Birth


Researchers have recognized exposure to high air temperature in late pregnancy as a risk factor for preterm birth. However, not much research has been done to explore the combined effects of heatwaves with air pollution and green space on the risk of preterm birth.

As an expert in the field of environmental health, I wanted to research how these conditions are affecting expecting mothers and provide recommendations to protect future generations.

To study this, we created a cohort of nearly 2 million mothers using birth certificate data in California between 2005 and 2013. Due to the heat patterns of the state, we studied births between May through September and found synergistic effects of heatwaves with air pollution and lack of green space on the risk of preterm birth. Heat stress can worsen adverse outcomes in humans through a variety of mechanisms.

In another study we further analyzed the association between residential exposure to air pollution and gestational diabetes. We obtained detailed clinical data of nearly 400,000 pregnancies in southern California from 2008–2018, from Kaiser Permanente Southern California electronic health records. Through this study, we determined that the main effect of gestational diabetes risk was driven by black carbon, which are particles mainly from emissions of diesel engines.

The results of our studies compel us to recommend targeted interventions focusing on air quality regulation and heat mitigation. These may come from government-level actions such as air pollution emission control and planting more trees, and individual-level protective behaviors such as using air filters and cooling centers for pregnant women living in areas with high air pollution and heat stress.

We hope that communities impacted by environmental hazards take the necessary steps to mitigate environmental factors in triggering adverse pregnancy outcomes.


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