In utero (before birth) exposure to “bad air” may contribute to causes of obesity in inner city neighborhoods. It's already been established that risk factors for obesity -- junk food, high fat-high cholesterol diets, etc. -- begin as early as the womb. New research shows that the air a mother breathes is also one of those risk factors.
Study Shows Pollution is a Culprit in the Obesity Epidemic
Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health have found a link between obesity and in utero exposure to fumes from diesel, gas, oil, and tobacco. The chemicals released when these petroleum oils are burned are called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
The researchers studied 700 non-smoking pregnant women in the inner-city exposed to high concentrations of PAHs. Their findings showed these women were more than twice as likely to have children who were obese by age 7 compared with women with lower levels of exposure. Results are published online in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
The study’s lead author, Andrew G. Rundle, professor of epidemiology, said obesity is not the result of just 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,” he said. Despite known linkages between socioeconomic status and obesity levels, the researchers found the impact of PAHs on risk of obesity was not influenced by household income or neighborhood poverty.
These findings fit with evidence from mice studies that have shown exposure to PAHs causes gains in fat mass.
Obesity Study Links Air Pollution to Bulging Waistlines in Adulthood
University in Durham, NC studied two groups of pregnant female mice. One group was exposed to diesel exhaust during the latter half of pregnancy. The other group was exposed to filtered air for the same time period. Once the offspring from both groups became adults, they were placed on either a low-fat diet (10% saturated fat) or a high-fat diet (45% saturated fat).
The researchers’ finding is that pregnant mice exposed to high levels of air pollution gave birth to offspring with a significantly higher rate of obesity and insulin resistance in adulthood than those that were not exposed to air pollution. This effect seemed especially prevalent in male mice, which were heavier regardless of diet. The researchers conclude that the findings suggest a link between diesel exhaust exposure in utero and bulging waistlines in adulthood. Results are published online in the FASEB Journal.
Overall, 17% of children in the United States are obese, and in inner-city neighborhoods, the prevalence is as high as 25%.
Columbia University Medical Center, Prenatal Exposure to Air Pollution Linked to Childhood Obesity, accessed 7-20-2012
Science Newsline Medicine and Healthcare, In Utero Exposure to Diesel Exhaust a Possible Risk Factor for Obesity, accessed 7-20-2012
The FASEB Journal, In utero exposure to diesel exhaust a possible risk factor for obesity, accessed 7-20-2012
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Published On: July 20, 2012