Friday, November 16, 2007

High-rise living linked to miscarriage in Japan

Women who live high up in tower blocks are more than twice as likely to miscarry as their neighbours living on lower floors, according to a survey in Japan. The survey ruled out other risk factors such as smoking, drinking or low income, and concluded that women living above the fifth floor had a one in five chance of a miscarriage.

The survey of 461 young married women living in flats in high-rise blocks shows that 10 per cent suffered miscarriages. When researchers broke down the figures according to the storeys the women lived on, they found that 20 per cent of women living on the fifth floor or above had suffered miscarriages, compared to just 8.8 per cent on the second, third and fourth floors, and 6 per cent on the ground and first floors.

'This was a bit of a mystery at first,' says Fumio Osaka of Tokai University, who conducted the survey. 'The results are not due to excessive smoking or drinking. I think the real reason is that women who live higher up just don't go out so often, because it's too much trouble. That leads to a lack of exercise and a build-up of stress.'

Most young urban couples live in flats. But Japanese mothers have easy access to state-subsidised medical care, so a lack of affordable healthcare does not appear to be a factor.

'Japanese flats tend to be small and cluttered,' says Osaka. 'That will lead to high stress levels if expectant mothers are cooped up all day, unable or unwilling to go out.'

The study quotes one 36-year-old woman who suffered a miscarriage four years ago, two years after moving to a ninth-floor flat. The following year she had another miscarriage. 'Going out is such a bother,' she told the researchers. 'It's a small flat and I suppose (the miscarriages) might be due to the stress.'

There are around 70 000 high-rise buildings in Japan, containing around three million flats. Japan's Ministry of Construction was alerted to a possible link between high-rise living and miscarriages two years ago. But a committee set up to look into the suggestion concluded that there was no connection. 'We are unable to affirm that high-rises create unfavourable conditions' for pregnant women, it reported last year.

Osaka disagrees, and is now conducting a much larger survey of 1000 women. The results will be published next spring. 'Preliminary results show the same trend as the last survey,' he says.

From issue 1938 of New Scientist magazine, 13 August 1994, page 7

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