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EPA STAR Research Shapes TIME Article on Fetal Origins

EPA STAR Research Shapes TIME Article on Fetal Origins

This month’s cover story in Time Magazine, “How the first nine months shape the rest of your life” by Annie Murphy Paul, presents claims and findings of numerous researchers about “fetal origins” (the study of fetal exposures and their impacts on developmental health and disease) and includes research results from the EPA STAR-funded Center for Children’s Environmental Health at Columbia University.

In the article, Paul states that:

The conditions we encounter in utero, shape our susceptibility to disease, our appetite and metabolism, our intelligence, and temperament… Much of what a pregnant woman encounters in her daily life – the air she breathes, the food and drink she consumes, the chemicals she’s exposed to, even the emotions she feels – is shared in some fashion with her fetus.”

Paul’s perspective and that of many of the researchers is that these findings give women an opportunity to take an active role in improving the fetal intrauterine environment and potentially have a positive impact on their child’s health later in life, even before the child is born.

Research from the Columbia Children’s Center’s principal investigator Frederica Perera, ties exposure to traffic-related air pollution during pregnancy to a host of adverse health outcomes, including premature delivery, low birth weight, heart malformations, lower IQ, and DNA damage linked to increased cancer risk.  Research from the Columbia Children’s Center has shown that children in the study who were highly exposed to PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, products of combustion which are present in vehicle exhaust) while in the womb were more than twice as likely to show cognitive delay at age 3, scored lower on a test predicting school performance at age 5 and scored lower on IQ tests than children receiving lower exposures.  Perera points out that efforts to reduce air pollutants over the years can make a measurable difference – new technologies used in New York City buses and restrictions on idling of diesel buses and trucks have resulted in lowered levels of these pollutants in the bloodstream of pregnant women in NYC.

Paul’s article discusses other research that associates: higher weight gain during pregnancy with increased risk of the child being overweight later in life; higher stress during pregnancy with later susceptibility to mental illness; and high blood sugar during pregnancy with increased risk of diabetes in the child.  This last point opens up an opportunity for interventions, like controlling diet and exercise, during pregnancy that may make the child less prone to diabetes.

Paul also discusses research, on the impact of foods like broccoli and cabbage consumed during pregnancy as possibly providing the child with chemoprotection against cancer later in life.  Research looking at diet related to asthma and how fetal exposures can affect children’s health will be supported in the next phase of EPA’s Children’s Centers program, expected to be announced in an upcoming meeting in October: Protecting Children's Health for a Lifetime: Environmental Health Research Meets Clinical Practice and Public Policy.

For additional information on this research:

Time article: “How the first nine months shape the rest of your lifeexit EPA (NOTE: only  a short summary is currently available currently online for non-subscribing users.)

EPA’s Children’s Centers for Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research

Center for Childrens Environmental Health at Columbia University.

Perara publication on relationship of pesticide exposure during pregnancy and IQ (PDF) (8 pp, 774 K). exit EPA

Centers Funded By:
Centers Funded by Epa and NIEHS

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