According to the findings a a new study, side effects if lead exposure during pregnancy may increase a child’s risk of obesity.
Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health report that high levels of lead in the mother’s blood during pregnancy resulted in a four-fold increased risk of obesity for the child later. The findings were published earlier this month, in the journal JAMA Network Open.
The study involved data from the Boston Birth Cohort, a large observational study examining causes of preterm delivery. The researchers evaluated data on 1,400 mother-child pairs recruited at birth from October 27, 2002, to October 10, 2013, and followed up at Boston Medical Center.
Researchers measured maternal red blood cell levels, plasma folate levels, and tested the samples 24 to 72 hours after delivery. They also measured the child’s lead levels at a pediatric well-child visit at one year old.
Lead was detectable in all maternal samples of blood. The average red blood cell lead level was 2.5 μg/dL and the average plasma folate levels 32.2 nmol/L. However, children whose mothers had elevated red blood cell lead levels greater than 5 μg/dL were four times more likely to be overweight or obese.
Additionally, maternal red blood cell levels had a dose-response link to child obesity. The higher levels of lead in the blood the higher the risk the child faced of being overweight or obese.
According to the findings, folic acid seemed to reduce the risk. Folic acid is a type of B vitamin supplement, often given to women before and during pregnancy to protect against neural tube birth defects like spina bifida. The U.S. Preventive Service Task Force recommends women of reproductive age take 400 micrograms daily.
Women with high blood lead levels and high levels of folic acid in their blood had a lower risk of having an obese or overweight child, despite the risk seen with high levels of lead.
The findings of the study suggest the obesity epidemic may be linked in part to environmental chemical exposure in utero. While the study does not show cause and effect, it does show the link between the two. The researchers said more research is needed to show cause and effect and to further investigate the potential protective benefits of folic acid.
Obesity puts children at risk for many other health conditions, including diabetes, high cholesterol, cardiovascular problems, asthma, and other health issues. It also increases a child’s risk of suffering many health conditions during adulthood.
Lead poisoning is also a serious health concern, which has affected some communities across the nation for decades. It can increase the risk of nervous system injury, brain damage, seizures, mental retardation, stunted growth, coma, and even death.
More than a half million children in the U.S. have lead blood levels that put them at risk for adverse health effects, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.