Infants Exposed To Household Chemicals In The Womb May Risk Later Obesity

A new study shows that pregnant women who are exposed to polyfluoroalkyl compounds (PFCs) — common environmental chemicals — give birth to infants that are smaller at birth and larger at 20 months, a path that may lead to obesity at older ages.

According to a study from Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health published online in Environmental Health Perspectives, PFCs (used in the production of fluoropolymers) are found virtually everywhere: in packaging product protective coatings, clothes, furniture, and non-stick cookware. These compounds are persistent and are found throughout the environment. Human exposure is quite common. Disturbingly, PFCs have also been detected in human sera, breast milk, and cord blood.

The study was funded by the CDC and included 447 British girls and their mothers in the UK participating in a large-scale health research project that has provided a wealth of genetic and environmental information since its start in the early 90s. Researchers found that girls with higher exposure were smaller than average at birth but heavier at 20 months. The authors concluded that PFC exposure coupled with this pattern of growth could lead to obesity as children get older.

“Previous animal and human research suggests prenatal exposures to PFCs may have harmful effects on fetal and postnatal growth,” said lead researcher Michele Marcus, MPH, PhD, a professor of epidemiology in Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health and the assistant program director at Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Health Research. “Our findings are consistent with these studies and emerging evidence that chemicals in our environment are contributing to obesity and diabetes and demonstrate that this trajectory is set very early in life for those exposed.”

Marcus also highlighted a recent study in Denmark that found that women who are exposed to PFCs in the womb were more likely to be overweight by age 20.