Exposure to Synthetic Chemicals Linked to Weight Gain in Children

There could be a possible link between the obesity epidemic and utero exposure to harmful chemicals, shows new study.

A study published in Environmental Health Perspectives journal has found that children who have early-life exposure to pesticides, fungicides, and other synthetic chemicals while in the womb are more likely to be overweight.

The new research, conducted in Spain by the INfancia y Medio Ambiente Project, measured 23 common contaminants in the blood and urine of pregnant women. All of the chemicals studied in the research are "obesogens," which are chemicals that are believed to be linked to body fat by disrupting metabolism and hormones. By experiencing chemical exposure in the womb, these children may have a much higher risk of obesity, cardiovascular risk, and diabetes.

This isn't the first study to make a connection between chemicals and obesity, either. A 2016 study published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health concluded that unborn and young children require much more protection from complex chemicals. What's more is that, in the Spanish study, researchers didn't stop their examination at childbirth. They followed the children's growth and development at six months old and then again at ages one, two, four, seven, and nine years old.

What chemicals were found in the study?

The complex chemicals found in the children included the fungicide hexachlorobenzene, or HCB, which was banned in the United States in 1984. Nevertheless, this chemical can still be found as a by-product or an impurity in certain other chemicals like pesticides. When this chemical enters the body, it stays in the fatty tissues for years and distributes itself throughout the body.

Researchers also found levels of pesticide dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene, or DDE, which occurs when DDT (another banned chemical since 1972) is broken down in the environment. People may be exposed to this chemical through the food chain — AKA eating fish, meat, or dairy.

The study also found levels of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, which take decades to break down. They can be found in our drinking water, resistant heat products, furniture, and, most recently, in the clouds. Studies have shown that PFAS contribute to hormonal fluctuations and thyroid disruptions in children.

Several other chemicals were examined in the study, like phthalates and phenols, which cause neurodevelopmental harm in children, as well as obesity, asthma, and cancer.

How do these chemicals impact children?

Synthetic chemicals were linked to low birth weights and delayed development, as well as an increased Body Mass Index (BMI) of 19% and 32%. So while the newborns' birth weight was usually underweight, they have an increase in body weight by nine years old, which is when they have the highest amount of body fat.

The study showed that developmental exposure was crucial in how these children may be impacted by an increased obesity risk later in life.

Researchers did not examine the other ways the children may be exposed, or how long-term exposure to industrial chemicals, can cause health risks. For example, breast milk, food, air, water, and soil all have toxic chemicals as well. Even in adults, these toxins are endocrine-disrupting chemicals that contribute to a variety of issues for the human body.

How can a pregnant mother avoid chemicals?

While industrial chemicals are seemingly everywhere, there are certain lifestyle factors that pregnant mothers can implement.

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