An Unexpected Health Benefit Of The Beijing Olympics

It turns out the Beijing Olympics were about more than just spectacle. A new analysis that examined the lower levels of air pollution leading up to the weeks-long event suggests that the global games also benefitted an unlikely group — China’s unborn citizens.

In preparation for the 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Chinese government agreed to temporarily improve air quality for the thousands of global spectators and athletes coming to watch the events. They did this, in part, by restricting vehicle use, closing or relocating factories and temporarily postponing construction projects. The measures resulted in an estimated drop of 18 to 59 percent in pollutant levels by the time the games rolled around from Aug. 8 to Sept. 24 of that year.

These policies meant slightly clearer skies and more breathable air for the Olympic participants and fans. And the slightly improved air standards also seem to have been a boon for babies born in Beijing shortly after the games as well: An analysis of over 83,000 Beijing births by researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center found that these babies were, on average, eight ounces heavier than the local babies born around the same month in different years, both before and after the Olympics.

Low birth weights — that is, birth weight less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces — are linked to growth abnormalities and restrictions in the womb, as well as infections or birth defects, according to the March of Dimes.

The slight improvement in birth weight was clear, explained researcher and University of Rochester epidemiologist David Rich, despite the fact that the anti-pollution policies were only able to reduce levels from “very high” to “moderately high.”

“I think it demonstrates for any mega city around the world that even a very —> Read More