Endocrine disrupting chemicals have been hypothesized to play a role in the obesity epidemic. Long-term effects of prenatal exposure to non-persistent pesticides on body composition have so far not been investigated. The purpose of this study was to assess possible effects of prenatal exposure to currently used pesticides on children's growth, endocrine and reproductive function.
In a prospective study of 247 children born by women working in greenhouses in early pregnancy, 168 were categorized as prenatally exposed to pesticides. At three months (n = 203) and at 6 to11 years of age (n = 177) the children underwent a clinical examination and blood sampling for analysis of IGF-I, IGFBP3 and thyroid hormones. Body fat percentage at age 6 to11 years was calculated from skin fold measurements. Pesticide related associations were tested by linear multiple regression analysis, adjusting for relevant confounders.
Compared to unexposed children birth weight and weight for gestational age were lower in the highly exposed children: -173 g (-322; -23), -4.8% (-9.0; -0.7) and medium exposed children: -139 g (-272; -6), -3.6% (-7.2; -0.0). Exposed (medium and highly together) children had significantly larger increase in BMI Z-score (0.55 SD (95% CI: 0.1; 1.0) from birth to school age) and highly exposed children had 15.8% (0.2; 34.6) larger skin folds and higher body fat percentage compared to unexposed. If prenatally exposed to both pesticides and maternal smoking (any amount), the sum of four skin folds was 46.9% (95% CI: 8.1; 99.5) and body fat percentage 29.1% (95% CI: 3.0; 61.4) higher. There were subtle associations between exposure and TSH Z-score -0.66(-1.287; -0.022) and IGF-I Z-score (girls: -0.62(-1.0; -0.22), boys: 0.38(-0.03; 0.79)), but not IGFBP3.
Occupational exposure to currently used pesticides may have adverse effects in spite of the added protection offered to pregnant women. Maternal exposure to combinations of modern, non-persistent pesticides during early pregnancy was associated with affected growth, both prenatally and postnatally. We found a biphasic association with lower weight at birth followed by increased body fat accumulation from birth to school age. We cannot rule out some residual confounding due to differences in social class, although this was adjusted for. Associations were stronger in highly exposed than in medium exposed children, and effects on body fat content at school age was potentiated by maternal smoking in pregnancy.
Keywords: pesticides, prenatal exposure, birth weight, body composition, maternal smoking