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Your Environment. Your Health.

Sex-Specific Weight Differences Linked to Pesticide Exposure

Brenda Eskenazi, Ph.D.
University of California, Berkeley

Exposure to pesticides before birth have different effects on body weight and body composition in boys and girls, according to an NIEHS-funded study. Maternal DDT exposure was associated with higher weight in girls, and maternal pyrethroid exposure was linked to lower weight in boys.

The researchers looked at markers of exposure to the pesticides DDT, DDE, and pyrethroids in a group of mothers near the end of their pregnancies in Limpopo, South Africa. Then, they measured the body mass index and weight of the children at 1 and 2 years of age. According to the authors, these findings suggested that pesticides might play a role in the growing obesity epidemic among South African girls and increasingly higher rates of underweight noted in South African boys.

Using sophisticated statistical pollutant models, the researchers looked at both individual and joint effects of the different pesticides. The authors noted differences in effects when looking at the mixture of insecticides compared with individual exposures. For example, the relationship between pyrethroid exposure and lower weight became stronger with increased exposure to DDE. The authors emphasized the importance of using advanced statistical methods to examine the health effects of chemical mixtures, rather than conventional approaches.

Citation: Coker E, Chevrier J, Rauch S, Bradman A, Obida M, Crause M, Bornman R, Eskenazi B. 2018. Association between prenatal exposure to multiple insecticides and child body weight and body composition in the VHEMBE South African birth cohort. Environ Int 113:122–132.

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