A recent study conducted by Brown University has found that exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals,” during pregnancy is associated with higher body mass indices (BMIs) and an increased risk of obesity in children. The study emphasizes the importance of ongoing research and policy adjustments to mitigate exposure risks.
The federally funded research, led by Brown University researchers, analyzed data from multiple research sites across the United States, providing a broader perspective on the link between prenatal PFAS exposure and childhood obesity. The study involved 1,391 children between the ages of 2 and 5 years and their mothers, who were enrolled in the Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) program, a nationwide research initiative supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
PFAS are extensively used in various household products, including textiles, personal care items, food packaging, and medical products. These chemicals are known for their durability, persisting in the environment for an extended period, which has earned them the nickname “forever chemicals.”
By analyzing blood samples collected from mothers during pregnancy, the researchers measured the levels of seven different PFAS compounds. They then calculated each child’s BMI, which serves as an approximate measure of body fat.
The findings revealed a connection between higher PFAS levels in the mothers’ blood during pregnancy and slightly elevated BMIs in their children. The increased risk of obesity was observed equally in male and female children. Notably, even low levels of PFAS exposure were associated with these effects, highlighting the continued risk posed by these chemicals despite reduced usage in some products.
Professor Joseph Braun, the senior author of the study and director of the Center for Children’s Environmental Health at Brown’s School of Public Health, emphasizes the importance of understanding the risks associated with PFAS exposure. He suggests that studies like this one can help inform environmental policy and safety guidelines, providing better protection for vulnerable populations.
The researchers plan to conduct further investigations into the long-term effects of maternal PFAS exposure on obesity-related health outcomes in older children, teenagers, and adults. The study’s results, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, serve as a valuable resource for researchers and policymakers working towards effective measures to address the risks posed by PFAS chemicals.
The research was supported by the ECHO program, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the National Institute of General Medicine Sciences.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about childhood obesity
What did the study from Brown University reveal regarding pregnancy exposure to “forever chemicals” and childhood obesity?
The study from Brown University revealed that prenatal exposure to “forever chemicals” (PFAS) is linked to higher body mass indices (BMIs) and an increased risk of obesity in children.
What is the significance of this study’s findings?
The study emphasizes the need for ongoing research and policy adjustments to mitigate the exposure risks of “forever chemicals” during pregnancy and their potential impact on childhood obesity.
How was the study conducted and what data was analyzed?
The study, funded by the Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes program at the National Institutes of Health, involved a broad data set collected from research sites across the United States. Blood samples from mothers during pregnancy were analyzed for PFAS levels, and the BMIs of their children were calculated.
Are these associations between PFAS exposure and childhood obesity observed at low levels of exposure?
Yes, the study found that even low levels of PFAS exposure were associated with slightly higher BMIs and an increased risk of obesity in children, suggesting that pregnant individuals today could still be at risk of harm from these chemicals.
How can these findings impact environmental policy and safety guidelines?
The study’s findings can help inform environmental policy and safety guidelines by raising awareness of the risks of PFAS exposure and the need for protective measures to safeguard vulnerable populations, especially during pregnancy.
The researchers plan to conduct further research to examine the associations between maternal PFAS exposure and obesity-related health outcomes in older children, teenagers, and adults.
What were the funding sources for this study?
The study was supported by the Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes program, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the National Institute of General Medicine Sciences.
More about childhood obesity
- Study: Pregnancy Exposure to “Forever Chemicals” May Fuel Childhood Obesity
- Environmental Health Perspectives: Associations of Gestational Perfluoroalkyl Substances Exposure with Early Childhood BMI z-Scores and Risk of Overweight/Obesity