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Environmental factors in declining human fertility

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A severe decline in child births has occurred over the past half century, which will lead to considerable population declines, particularly in industrialized regions. A crucial question is whether this decline can be explained by economic and behavioural factors alone, as suggested by demographic reports, or to what degree biological factors are also involved. Here, we discuss data suggesting that human reproductive health is deteriorating in industrialized regions. Widespread infertility and the need for assisted reproduction due to poor semen quality and/or oocyte failure are now major health issues. Other indicators of declining reproductive health include a worldwide increasing incidence in testicular cancer among young men and alterations in twinning frequency. There is also evidence of a parallel decline in rates of legal abortions, revealing a deterioration in total conception rates. Subtle alterations in fertility rates were already visible around 1900, and most industrialized regions now have rates below levels required to sustain their populations. We hypothesize that these reproductive health problems are partially linked to increasing human exposures to chemicals originating directly or indirectly from fossil fuels. If the current infertility epidemic is indeed linked to such exposures, decisive regulatory action underpinned by unconventional, interdisciplinary research collaborations will be needed to reverse the trends.

Original languageEnglish
JournalNature reviews. Endocrinology
Volume18
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)139-157
Number of pages19
ISSN1759-5029
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022

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