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Your Environment. Your Health.

Prenatal Exposure to PAHs Linked to Childhood Obesity

Frederica P. Perera, Dr.P.H.
Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health
NIEHS Grant P01ES009600


An NIEHS grantee reports that pregnant women exposed to higher concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) were more than twice as likely to have children who were obese by age 7 than women with lower levels of exposure. PAHs are a common urban air pollutant, and this study provides evidence that prenatal exposure to PAHs can influence childhood obesity.

The study involved 702 non-smoking African-American and Hispanic pregnant women, 18-35 years old, living in predominantly low-income areas. A personal air monitor recorded PAH exposure for two days during the mothers’ third trimester.

Compared with children of mothers with lower levels of exposure to PAHs during pregnancy, the children of women exposed to high levels were 1.79 times more likely to be obese at age 5 and 2.26 times more likely to be obese at age 7. The 7-year-olds, whose mothers had the highest exposures, had an average of 2.4 pounds of more fat mass than children of mothers with the least exposure.


Citation: Rundle A, Hoepner L, Hassoun A, Oberfield S, Freyer G, Holmes D, Reyes M, Quinn J, Camann D, Perera F, Whyatt R. 2012. Association of childhood obesity with maternal exposure to ambient air polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons during pregnancy. Am J Epidemiol; doi:10.1093/aje/kwr455 [Online 13 April 2012].

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