A new study published in the January 2009 issue of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) reveals an association between prenatal exposure to environmental pollutants and elevated body mass index (BMI) during the first three years of life. 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 chemicals like pesticides, dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE), hexachlorobenzene, dioxin-like compounds and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) may increase body weight. Higher PCB levels were associated with higher Body Mass Index (BMI) in children between ages 1 and 3. Higher DDE levels showed a slight increase in BMI 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 these nasty chemicals may combine with 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 of children ages 1 to 3, as well as pollutants measured in their spinal cord blood.
“There is a known correlation between BMI during the preschool years and adult BMI,” wrote lead study author Stijn L. Verhulst and his colleagues. “This is the first study demonstrating that environmental pollution may influence BMI during the critical first few years of life.”
With childhood obesity continuing to increase at an alarming rate, it is important step to assess possible mechanisms by which pollutants may alter our energy metabolism early in life. The original research article is, today, linked to the headline of this post.