The effects of maternal exposure to elevated ambient temperature on adverse birth outcomes in Queensland, Australia

Climate change is rapidly increasing global temperatures, which is having a significant impact on Australia. The country is becoming more vulnerable to high environmental temperatures, resulting in a rise in health problems. For example, high temperatures such as heatwaves are contributing to adverse health impacts including cardiovascular diseases, kidney diseases, mental illnesses, dehydration, and even mortality among older people, children, people with existing health problems, outdoor workers, and many others.

Pregnant women are particularly susceptible to these high temperatures. Exposure to high environmental temperatures can increase the risk of premature birth (born before 37 complete weeks of gestation), low birth weights (live births under 2,500g), stillbirths, congenital disabilities, and neonatal deaths (death that occurs 0-28 days from birth). While the relationship between adverse birth outcomes and high environmental temperature has been found globally, little is known about the impact of high temperatures on maternal/newborn health in Queensland. To fill this knowledge gap, a project is investigating the effect of high environmental temperature on adverse birth outcomes spatially and temporally in Queensland, using Queensland perinatal data from the last decade.

The project is also investigating heat action plans worldwide and providing recommendations to improve Queensland's heatwave management subplan from a maternal health perspective. So far, the project has suggested some recommendations to enhance the Queensland heatwave management sub-plan. These recommendations include targeting heat health messages for the pregnant population, disseminating heat health information targeting the maternal population, and providing heat health education to pregnant women. Additionally the long-term, the project recommends planning a surveillance system to detect pregnant women during the heatwave season and introducing heat health policies targeting the maternal population to enhance the Queensland heatwave management sub-plan from a maternal and newborn health perspective. 

Research Outcomes

The outcomes of interest of this study include a comprehensive understanding of the relationship between high environmental temperatures and adverse birth outcomes in Queensland. The outcome of this research will shed light on how maternal demographic and socioeconomic factors can affect this relationship. Furthermore, the findings of this research can help enhance the Queensland heatwave management sub-plan by providing insights into heat prevention and adaptation measures for maternal and newborn health. 

Research Outputs

Dalugoda, Y., Kuppa, J., Phung, H., Rutherford, S. and Phung, D., 2022. Effect of elevated ambient temperature on maternal, foetal, and neonatal outcomes: a scoping review. International journal of environmental research and public health19(3), p.1771.

Conference Presentations

2022 Australian Medical Research Council conference: Effect of high ambient temperature on adverse pregnancy and birth outcomes

2022 School of Public Health, The University of Queensland: Heat health impact on pregnant women and newborns

2023 The Pacific Basin Consortium for Environment and Health Focus Meeting: A content analysis of heat action plans on maternal and health perspective

2023 School of Public Health/Poche Centre for Indigenous Health/Centre for Health Services Research HDR Conference: Effects of maternal exposure to elevated ambient temperature on adverse birth and pregnancy outcomes in Queensland



Project members

Dr Dung Phung

Theme Leader, Climate Change and Health