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Chemical pollutants in a mother’s blood can predict the risk of stomach fat among her children

Posted April 8, 2015

If a foetus is exposed to the slowly degradable pollutant PFOS, this may lead to greater risk of stomach fat and increased waist-height ratio in childhood.

This is the finding of a new study published in the scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives on 26 March. An international research group including experts from Aarhus University Hospital and Aarhus University are behind the study. All are experts in the health effects of pollutants.

The study comprises 1,022 children aged 5-9 years whose mothers were included in a pregnancy examination in the years 2002-2004 in Greenland and the Ukraine. PFOS is a fluorosurfactant previously found in e.g. textile impregnating substances and fire-fighting equipment, which was measured in the pregnant women’s blood and compared to children’s weight, body mass index (BMI) and waist-height ratio.

“High levels of the PFOS pollutant during pregnancy increase the risk of large amounts of fat around the waist in childhood,” says Birgit Bjerre Høyer, PhD in epidemiology and the person who carried out the study at Aarhus University and Aarhus University Hospital.

Worldwide, more than every third child between the ages of 6 and 17 is overweight. Being overweight in childhood – and in particular fat around waist – increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases and other lifestyle diseases such as Type 2 diabetes in adulthood.

Avoiding PFOS is difficult

While the pollutant PFOS has been virtually phased out, the fact that it has slow biodegradability means it is still found everywhere in the environment around us, such as e.g. in sofas, curtains, fire fighting equipment and in our groundwater.

“It is difficult to avoid coming into contact with PFOS as it is found in many places in our environment. But we should be pleased that the substance is being phased out and that it is, at the same time, slowly being broken down,” says Birgit Bjerre Høyer.

The children in Birgit Bjerre Høyer’s study had increased waist-height ratio, which is shown by fat around the waist, but not an elevated Body Mass Index (BMI). The scientists cannot explain why PFOS leads to fat around the waist. However, they believe that the substance possibly has an endocrine disrupting effect.

Source: Aarhus University

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