Event Highlight: Childhood Obesity and The Environment

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On Nov 29th, a panel of 7 experts led by National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Director Linda Birnbaum participated the first NIEHS virtual forum. The format was Q&A; participants submitted questions by email, Web, and Twitter. The topic was Child Obesity & the Environment.

Although body size is driven by energy balance, meaning nutrition and physical activity,  environmental exposures also seem to be a factor in the obesity epidemic, particularly at sensitive periods of development such as the prenatal period and early childhood. In obesity, adipocyte or fat cells seems to lose their normal controls. Obese people have more or larger fat cells.

Chemical exposures that have been associated with obesity include:
  • Maternal smoking during pregnancy
  • Phthalates
  • Bisphenol A (BPA)
  • Organotins, used as stabilizers for PolyVinylChloride (PCV)
  • Some pesticides
  • Air pollution from diesel fumes (PAHs) 
  • Indoor dust, especially for young children
Obesity puts people at greater risk for heart disease, stroke, Type 2 Diabetes and some types of cancer. Early exposures are associated with health outcomes later in life: Being undernourished during development is associated 50-60 years later with increased cancer, diabetes, and obesity.

Panelists discussed the food system, which has changed from a generation ago. We eat a different diet prepared in a different way. Portion sizes are larger and even published recipes contain more calories per serving. We make food more palatable - saltier, sweeter, and tastier - which tempts us to overeat.

Trends show some leveling off of obesity rates in the US, although rates are skyrocketing in many developing countries. Our experiences in utero, however, do not predestine us to be obese. There are many choices we can make in life that will help us get fit and stay healthy. 


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. It's a real cause for alarm when you pointed out the problem with how food is served these days. Considering how "portion sizes are larger" now, we're observing even an increase in obesity amongst the working-age populace. maybe that's where other health experts should put some focus on.