Maternal Exposure to Industrial Chemicals During Pregnancy May Contribute To Weight Gain in Offspring

Key Takeaways:

  • Prenatal exposure to a chemical called PFOA, commonly used in industries, may be associated with quicker body fat gain and obesity in children.
  • The study conducted in Cincinnati suggested that children born from mothers with high PFOA exposure during pregnancy had approximately 2.4 pounds more body fat by age 8 compared to children from less exposed mothers.
  • Despite extra body fat seeming small, it could potentially increase the risk of the child developing type 2 diabetes in the future.
  • While the study identified a link between prenatal PFOA exposure and child body fat, it was not designed to establish causality, and further research is required to confirm these findings.
  • These research findings, potentially significant for public health and industrial regulations, were published in the journal Obesity.

A recent study suggests that children might be at an elevated risk of obesity when exposed in utero to high doses of a commonly used industrial chemical.

The Case Study

The researchers collected data from more than 200 Cincinnati-based mothers and their offspring. According to the observed results, children whose mothers were reasonably exposed to a chemical known as PFOA while pregnant have a quicker rate of gaining body fat. By the time they reached 8 years of age, these offspring significantly outpaced their counterparts in body fat accumulation whose mothers had lesser chemical exposure during their pregnancies.

What is PFOA?

PFOA is a chemical widely used in manufacturing repellent fabrics for water/oil, fire-extinguishing foam, and non-stick coatings. This chemical found extensive use for many years in an industrial factory upstream of the Ohio River and near Cincinnati, according to the study.

Study Limitations and Further Investigations

While the study indicated a link between prenatal PFOA exposure and later weight in a child’s life, it is important to clarify that it was not structured to confirm causality.

However, despite this limitation, the results are “compelling enough to call for further scrutiny to see if the trends persist as children mature and to check for any correlation with other fetal growth or rapid growth during early infancy indicators with these prenatal exposures“, revealed Joseph Braun, the lead of the study, in a communiqué from Brown University. Braun serves as an assistant professor of epidemiology at Brown University, situated in Providence, R.I.

Some Concerning Observations

In their recent study, the team measured children’s height, weight, and amount of fat tissue. An earlier study, done near the chemical plant, failed to identify a direct correlation between PFOA exposure and adolescent weights. However, the earlier study relied more on self-reported data and less on concrete measures, a factor that might contribute to the varying results of the two studies, Braun and colleagues noted.

Investigating further, Braun’s research team discovered that children born from two-thirds of mothers with the highest prenatal exposure to PFOA had, by the time they reached 8, approximately 2.4 pounds more body fat than those born from mothers in the least exposed third bracket.

Although the extra fat might seem insignificant, Braun cautions that it might heighten the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future. “There’s no safe limit of added fat mass. Excess fat mass is always a health risk,” he emphasized. Braun added,”When examining the risk of diabetes in adults, the danger is almost directly proportional across the entire range of BMI.” BMI, or Body Mass Index, is a metric that helps estimate body fat based on an individual’s weight and height.

Media Coverage

The research findings were first circulated online on Nov. 11 in the journal Obesity.

More Resources

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides helpful advice on maintaining healthy weight for children.


Greetings from the trails and tracks! I'm Tim, but most folks know me as TJ. I've spent the last 5 years diving deep into the world of content writing, with a particular penchant for nutrition and the intricate science behind it. Every bite we take, every nutrient we consume, tells a unique story – and I'm here to unravel it for you.Beyond my keyboard, you'll often find me on a winding hiking trail or pushing my limits on a long-distance run. These pursuits not only keep me fit but constantly remind me of the vital role nutrition plays in fueling our passions and adventures.Through my writings, I aim to bridge the gap between complex nutritional science and everyday eating habits. Whether you're looking for the latest research updates, practical diet tips, or stories from the running track, I'm committed to serving you content that's as engaging as it is enlightening.So, lace up your shoes, grab a healthy snack, and join me in this exploration of food, science, and the great outdoors. Together, we'll journey towards better health and incredible experiences!
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