A recent study by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) concluded that a prenatal exposure to Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), toxic chemicals present in pesticides and other industrial products, could increase the Body Mass Index, blood pressure and cardiometabolic risk during adolescence.
This is the first longitudinal study that assessed the effects of POPs during childhood and adolescence, and it was based on a follow-up of nearly 400 boys and girls, from the prenatal stage to 18 years of age.
We talked with Núria Güil-Ourait, first author of the study, to learn more about these substances and their effects on the population.
Looking at the results of the study, how could these prenatal exposures be reduced or completely avoided?
Although POPs are banned at the international level, they are still present in all ecosystems due to their high persistence. In Europe, although the background levels have decreased throughout the years, they are still found in local food, especially in animal fat products and they are still detected in pregnant women and children.
Some of these chemicals are currently being used in other parts of the world (e.g. DDT as disease vector control). Furthermore, in most low and middle-income countries (LMICs), POPs are disposed of in uncontrolled dumpsites and landfills, where these unintended chemicals are released into the environment.
European environmental regulatory agencies should increase the monitoring of POPs levels of local and imported food and invest and implement new strategies for the extraction and clean-up of these chemicals.
“We need international efforts towards environmentally sound management of waste contaminated with POPs, especially in LMICs that are burdened with high amounts of chemical waste”
Apart from obesity and an increased cardiometabolic risk, are there any other effects of this kind of pesticides? Are those effects still present after adolescence?
Prenatal exposure to POPs has also been associated with adverse neurodevelopmental and behavioral outcomes including ADHD symptoms and autism in childhood. A recent study conducted in a longitudinal birth cohort study in the Netherlands concluded that POPs were associated with a poorer cognitive and motor development in adolescents aged 13-15 years.
In terms of respiratory and inmune health, maternal exposure to some of the POPs has been related to asthma, eczema/hay fever and ear infections in their offspring at young stages as well as a poorer lung, but also at later stages (20 years old).
Nuria Güil-Oumrait et al., Prenatal exposure to persistent organic pollutants and markers of obesity and cardiometabolic risk in Spanish adolescents, Environment International, Volume 151, 2021, 106469.