Article in BMJ Open: Possible link between sudden infant death syndrome and air pollution

A new study by CERH Director, Professor Jouni J. K. Jaakkola and collaborators from the University of Birmingham and the Medical Research Council Unit The Gambia suggests a possible association between exposure to certain air pollutants and an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The research examines the relationship between the effects of short-term variations in air pollution and the onset of cot death or SIDS.

The study found evidence suggesting an association between SIDS and exposure to larger particulate matter (airborne pollutants) called PM10, as well as nitrous dioxide (NO2). Other pollutants were not found to be associated with SIDS. The researchers looked at levels of air pollution the day before a SIDS death and compared them to levels on a previous reference day. The research found an increased risk for SIDS two days after exposure to NO2, while exposure to PM10 was shown to have an effect for up to five days after exposure.

The study involved over 200 SIDS cases in the West Midlands, UK, between 1996 and 2006. The air pollution levels in the West Midlands area UK resemble closest the situation of the Helsinki Metropolitan Area in Finland, says Professor Jaakkola.

According to the World Health Organization the harmful effects of air pollution cause 3.7 million premature deaths each year. Children are vulnerable to ambient air pollution due to the fragility of their immune system and the ratio of their lung capacity to their size, said the lead author Dr Ian Litchfield, of the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Applied Health Research.

CERH is planning a similar study using Finnish data, says professor Jaakkola. "In Finland the air pollution levels are low when compared to many other countries, but the cold weather may increase the negative effects. Therefore additional studies carried out in Finland would complement the bigger picture" Jaakkola adds.

The research was funded by The Lullaby Trust and it has been carried out in a collaboration with the University of Birmingham, CERH and the Medical Research Council Unit The Gambia. Professor Jaakkola started the project when he was a professor and a director of research center at the University of Birmingham, UK. The article was published in the BMJ Open on April 12, 2018.


Litchfield IJ, Ayres JG, Jaakkola JJK, Mohammed NI. Is ambient air pollution associated with onset of sudden infant death syndrome: a case-crossover study in the UK. BMJOpen 2018;8:e018341. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-018341


More information:

Jouni J. K. Jaakkola, Professor of Public Health, Director, Center for Environmental and Respiratory Health Research (CERH), University of Oulu
Email: jouni.jaakkola (at), tel. +358 40 6720 927

Last updated: 24.4.2018