April 22nd, 2012 by James Ayre
Prenatal exposure to high levels of air pollution doubled the likelihood of children becoming obese in a new study by Colombia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.
The study finds that pregnant women exposed to high levels of polycyclic aromatic compounds (PAHS) were more than twice as likely to have children who were obese by age seven than the women who had lower levels of exposure. PAHs are a common urban pollutant, mostly from the burning of fossil fuels, as well as other substances such as tobacco.
“Obesity is a complex disease with multiple risk factors. It isn’t just the result of individual choices like diet and exercise. For many people who don’t have the resources to buy healthy food or don’t have the time to exercise, prenatal exposure to air pollution may tip the scales, making them even more susceptible to obesity,” lead researcher Andrew G. Rundle is quoted as saying.
The children that had prenatally been exposed to the highest amount of PAHs were nearly twice as likely to be obese by age five, and more than that by age seven, than the children of the women that had less exposure to PAHs.
“Not only was their body mass higher, but it was higher due to body fat rather than bone or muscle mass,” says Dr. Rundle.
These findings match with animal studies, which have shown PAHs inhibit the release of fat by fat cells.
Previous research has shown that PAHs are linked to low IQ, anxiety, depression, and attention disorders. They are also known to disrupt the hormone systems and are known carcinogens.
Household income and neighborhood poverty didn’t appear to play any role. The researchers also ruled out the effects of household smoking and proximity to busy roads.
Robin Whyatt, the paper’s senior author, said that this study is one of the first to present evidence that chemicals in the environment are linked to human obesity. Future research from the authors of this study will work to identify other potentially obesity-causing chemicals.
Source: Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health
Image Credits: Air Pollution and Smokestack & Pollution via Shutterstock
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