In case you needed another reason to dislike DDT, Spanish researchers have found that a byproduct of the infamous pesticide might be making us fat.
Their study, published online yesterday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found babies whose mothers had higher levels of the chemical DDE (.pdf) in their blood were more likely to experience rapid growth in their first six months and to have a higher body mass index by 14 months.
The finding dovetails with a growing body of evidence that exploding obesity rates may have something to do with early exposure to endocrine disruptors, a class of chemicals that mimic hormones.
Frederick vom Saal, PhD, a University of Missouri-Columbia researcher who has performed similar experiments on mice, explained at the 2007 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science:
Babies [exposed in the womb to endocrine disruptors] are born with a low body weight and a metabolic system that's been programmed for starvation. This is called a 'thrifty phenotype,' a system designed to maximize the use of all food taken into the body. The problem comes when the baby isn't born into a world of starvation, but into a world of fast food restaurants and fatty foods.
DDE specifically has been implicated in two previous studies, which showed moms whose breast milk had elevated levels of the chemical were more likely to have premature babies and have trouble breastfeeding. The organochlorine has no commercial use, but is released by the breakdown of DDT (banned in the U.S. in 1972 but still used in other countries). It persists in the environment and biomagnifies, accumulating in plants and fatty animal tissues.
People are exposed to small amounts of DDE in the foods they eat everyday, including leafy vegetables, root vegetables and fatty meat.
Photo by Badruddeen