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A new study has found that replacing traditional cookstoves that burn wood and kerosene with clean-burning ethanol cookstoves can have a positive impact on birth outcomes, further evidence of the link between clean cooking and improved health. After controlling for other risk factors, the randomized intervention study, “Pregnancy outcomes and ethanol cook stove intervention: A randomized-controlled trial in Ibadan, Nigeria,” showed that babies born to mothers who cooked with ethanol were born later (39.2 weeks vs 38.2 weeks average gestational age) and heavier (88 grams) than babies born to mothers cooking with either wood or kerosene.
Globally over 90% of children are exposed to air pollution above World Health Organization guidelines, with 17 million babies breathing air six times more toxic than the guidelines, according to a recent UNICEF study. Exposure to household air pollution from cooking has previously been linked to adverse pregnancy outcomes, with recent research suggesting that air pollution significantly increases the risk of low birth weight in babies.
The new study is the first randomized controlled trial investigating multiple maternal and infant health impacts of switching from traditional cooking fuels to ethanol. In addition to seeing increased birthweight and gestational age at delivery, study authors also saw a lower rate of miscarriages and neo-natal deaths among the women using ethanol, though the difference was not statistically significant.
"The study is further evidence that sustained use of clean cookstoves and fuels can produce health benefits, especially in pregnant women and their developing babies,” said lead study author Christopher O. Olopade, MD, MPH, professor of medicine and director of international programs at the University of Chicago's Pritzker School of Medicine. "We found that women in this study really liked using the clean-burning cookstoves, and even gave away their kerosene stoves. By switching to cleaner burning cooking fuels, we are able to improve birth outcomes, thereby reducing the burden of disease caused by exposure to household air pollution.”
Dr. Olopade and his colleagues enrolled 324 pregnant women in the study, which was published in Environment International. Women who smoked or lived with a smoker or who cooked for a living were excluded from the study. The women enrolled were randomized into the study between the 16-18th weeks of pregnancy. Half of the participating women who previously cooked with firewood or kerosene were randomly assigned to cook with ethanol. The other half continued to cook with either wood or kerosene.
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