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Mom's Exposure to PFAS Linked to Obesity in Kids

A new study led by researchers at Brown University showed a connection between prenatal exposure to “forever chemicals” and obesity in children. Learn how to limit your exposure to PFAS here.
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By Wyndi Kappes, Associate Editor
Updated June 21, 2023
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PFAS or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are everywhere. From nonstick pans to eye makeup, cleaning products, rain jackets and more–these so-called “forever chemicals” are thought to persist in the environment for thousands of years, contaminating not only these products, but also, the water, soil and food that we eat.

For years, these chemicals have been shown to build up in the human body, causing potential health issues. Now, the latest health consequence of PFAS may affect children even before they are born.

A new Environmental Health Perspectives study led by researchers at Brown University shows a link between exposure to PFAS during pregnancy to slightly higher body mass indices and an increased risk of obesity in children. While this link has been suggested in previous research, the data had previously been inconclusive.

This study was different in that it analyzed a bigger and broader data set of 1,391 children between the ages of 2-5 years and their mothers in several different states. “The findings were based on eight research cohorts located in different parts of the US as well as with different demographics,” said the study’s lead author Yun “Jamie” Liu in a press release. “This makes our study findings more generalizable to the population as a whole.”

Researchers analyzed the levels of seven different PFAS in blood samples collected from mothers during pregnancy. They then calculated each child’s body mass index, an approximate measure of body fat. The researchers found that higher levels of PFAS in the mother’s blood during pregnancy were related to slightly higher BMIs. What’s more, this increased risk of obesity was seen equally across male and female children and the associations were observed even at low levels of PFAS exposure.

While PFAs are abundant in our environment, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are several meaningful ways you can lower your intake of PFAS.

How to Lower Your Exposure to PFAS While Pregnant

1. Reduce Exposure to PFAS in Drinking Water

One of the main ways PFAS are introduced into our bodies is through drinking water. If you get your water from a public drinking water system, the EPA suggests that you reach out to your local water utility to learn about how they may be addressing PFAS. Consider installing in-home water filters that are certified to lower the levels of PFAS in your water.

2. Avoid Eating Fish Contaminated with PFAS

You can determine which waterways are of concern by contacting your state or tribal fish advisory programs using EPA’s list of state, territory, and tribal fish advisory contacts.

3. Reduce Your Contact with Products Containing PFAS

Even though recent efforts to remove certain PFAS from products have reduced the likelihood of exposure, PFAS are still commonly found in the following household products: Grease-resistant fast food containers, microwave popcorn bags, stain-resistant coatings, water-resistant clothing, cleaning products, personal care products and cosmetics. Do some research into whether your shampoo or makeup may contain PFAS and consider making the switch to these pregnancy-safe alternatives.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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