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Study Links Prenatal Exposure to Chemicals With Higher BMI in Toddlers

A new study reveals an association between prenatal exposure to environmental pollutants and elevated body mass index (BMI) during the first three years of life, as reported in the January 2009 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP). The study also found associations between exposures to various pollutants and birth weight and length.

Recent reviews support the hypothesis that even brief exposures early in life to endocrine-disrupting chemicals like pesticides, dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE), hexachlorobenzene, dioxin-like compounds and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) may increase body weight.

Higher PCB levels were associated with higher BMI standard deviation scores (SDS) in children between ages 1 and 3. Higher DDE levels showed a slight increase in BMI SDS in 3-year-old children, with a somewhat stronger association in children of smoking mothers than of nonsmoking mothers. The study concluded that simultaneous intrauterine exposure to endocrine disruptors may compound the weight-enhancing effects of maternal smoking during pregnancy.

A random sample of 138 mother-infant pairs living in Flanders, Belgium was used for the study, with follow-up until the children were 3 years old. The study measured BMI as SDS of children ages 1 to 3, as well as pollutants measured in cord blood.

“There is a known correlation between BMI during the preschool years and adult BMI,” wrote lead study author Stijn L. Verhulst and colleagues. “This is the first study demonstrating that environmental pollution may influence BMI during the critical first few years of life.”

EHP editor-in-chief Hugh A. Tilson, PhD said, “With childhood obesity continuing to increase at an alarming rate, this study is an important step in assessing possible mechanisms by which pollutants may alter energy metabolism early in life.”

Authors include Stijn L. Verhulst, Vera Nelen, Elly Den Hond, Gudrun Koppen, Caroline Beunckens, Carl Vael, Greet Schoeters and Kristine Desager.

Julie Hayworth-Perman | Newswise Science News
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