Chemical exposure in womb may be linked to childhood weight gain
Babies exposed to endocrine-disrupting chemicals while in the womb may face a higher risk of gaining weight rapidly during early childhood, a study found.
Babies exposed to a set of common chemicals in the womb may be at higher risk of gaining weight rapidly during early childhood, a recent study suggests.
The research, published last week in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, identified a link between exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in utero and a rapid increase in a child’s body mass index from birth to 9 years of age.
The category of chemicals studied includes per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — better known as PFAS or “forever chemicals” because of how slowly they degrade — as well as some compounds used in or derived from fungicides and pesticides. Such chemicals can be found in everyday items, including nonstick cookware, cosmetic products and plastic food containers, as well as in some meat and fish if the animals were exposed to contaminated land or water. They are thought to interact with humans’ endocrine systems by mimicking natural hormones.
The new findings are based on data from more than 1,900 pairs of mothers and children in Spain, gathered from 2003 to 2008. The women, whose racial breakdown was not described, gave blood and urine samples during pregnancy, from which the researchers measured the concentration of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in their bodies. Then the scientists measured their children’s BMIs at several points up to age 9. (BMI is a measure of body fat based on one’s height and weight, though the metric is not necessarily a good indicator of individual health.)
The results of the analysis showed that babies with more exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals before birth were more likely to be born smaller than the study group’s average, then experience rapid growth during their early years of life. Exposure to two chemicals in particular was also associated with a higher risk of rapid BMI gain after a baby was born larger than average.