A recent study reportedly claims that prenatal exposure to the pesticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and its breakdown product dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE) is associated with accelerated growth and elevated BMI in infants born to normal-weight mothers. Michelle Mendez, et al., “Prenatal Organochlorine Compound Exposure, Rapid Weight Gain and Overweight in Infancy,” Environmental Health Perspectives, October 2010.  

Researchers apparently used data from Spain’s ongoing INMA [Infancia y Medio- Ambiente] study, which assayed blood from approximately 500 expectant mothers for persistent chlorinated pollutants such as DDT and DDE, hexachlorobenzene, beta-hexachlorohexane, and dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls.  

The authors concluded that, when compared to infants born to women in the lowest quartile for DDE exposure, those born to normal-weight mothers in the first quartile were at “a two times increased risk of rapid growth.” In addition, “DDE was also associated with elevated BMI at 14 months.” The study suggested, however, that the association only appeared true for normal-weight, as opposed to overweight, mothers, and that other organochlorine compounds “were not associated with rapid growth or elevated BMI.”  

Noting that most organochlorine exposure “is thought to come from the diet,” Mendez told media sources that her team “didn’t actually expect this interaction between maternal weight and DDE’s impact,” but stressed that the study’s analyses left “less than a 5 percent chance that such a finding was due to chance.” As Bruce Blumberg of the University of California, Irvine, was quoted as saying, the paper “is very interesting because the authors have linked the extensive literature on rapid early infancy weight gain [and] later increased BMI with endocrine disruptor exposure in a population of significant size… DDE levels are consistently associated with increased BMI in adults. Therefore, the current study provides another link between DDE and the risk of obesity.” See AOL Health and Science News, October 6, 2010.