ScienceDaily (Mar. 20, 2009) — Prenatal exposure to an insecticide commonly used up until the 1970s may play a role in the obesity epidemic in women, according to a new study involving several Michigan State University researchers.
More than 250 mothers who live along and eat fish from Lake Michigan were studied for their exposure to DDE – a breakdown of DDT. The study, published as an editor’s choice in this month’s edition of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, analyzed DDE levels of the women’s offspring.
Compared to the group with the lowest levels, those with intermediate levels gained an average of 13 pounds excess weight, and those with higher levels gained more than 20 pounds of excess weight.
“Prenatal exposure to toxins is increasingly being looked at as a potential cause for the rise in obesity seen worldwide,” said Janet Osuch, a professor of surgery and epidemiology at MSU’s College of Human Medicine, who was one of the lead authors of the study. “What we have found for the first time is exposure to certain toxins by eating fish from polluted waters may contribute to the obesity epidemic in women.”
Though DDT was banned in 1973 after three decades of widespread use, the chemical and its byproducts remain toxic in marine life and fatty fish. The study was funded by a $300,000 grant from the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
“These findings not only apply to the offspring of women in our cohort but to any woman who has been exposed to high levels of DDE when she was growing in her mother’s womb,” Osuch said. “Mothers with the highest DDE levels are women who have consumed a lot of fish or high-fat meats.”