In-utero exposure to magnetic fields associated with increased risk of obesity in childhood

July 27, 2012

In-utero exposure to relatively high magnetic field levels was associated with a 69 percent increased risk of being obese or overweight during childhood compared to lower in-utero magnetic field levels, according to a Kaiser Permanente study that appears in the current online version of Nature's Scientific Reports.

Researchers conducted the , in which participating women in Kaiser Permanente's Northern California region carried a meter measuring magnetic field levels during pregnancy and 733 of their children were followed up to 13 years, to collect clinically recorded information on growth patterns. On average, 33 weight measurements per child were collected.

Researchers noted a dose response relationship with increasing in-utero magnetic field levels being associated with further of obesity or being overweight. The observed association and supporting evidence provide the first epidemiologic findings that link increasing exposure to environmental magnetic fields, especially in-utero exposure, over the last few decades with the rapid rise in during the corresponding decades, according to the authors.

"Pregnancy is a critical that is among the most vulnerable periods to ," said De-Kun Li, MD, PhD, a perinatal epidemiologist with the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research in Oakland, Calif., and the lead author of the study. "These findings indicate that electromagnetic fields, from microwave ovens to countless wireless devices, may be contributing to childhood obesity risk. This finding could have implications for possibly reducing childhood obesity and better understanding the . Like any , the results need to be replicated by other studies."

After controlling for a child's age at each weight measurement, , maternal age at delivery, pre-pregnancy BMI, race, education level, and breastfeeding, researchers reported a 50 percent increase of participants being obese or overweight for medium in–utero levels (1.5-2.5 mG), and an 84 percent increased risk for high in-utero levels (>2.5mG). An mG, or milligauss, represents a unit of level or strength as measured using a gaussmeter.

This study follows previous work from Dr. Li (and others) that showed electromagnetic fields may impact pregnancy outcomes and childhood diseases including asthma. Higher EMF levels have also been associated with diabetes in humans, being overweight and high glucose levels in animals, and ADHD in mice offspring, explained Dr. Li.

In the current study, among those children with longer follow-up time (to the end of the study), the observed association was stronger (2.35 times the risk of childhood obesity/overweight for in-utero MF level > 1.5 mG vs. ≤ 1.5 mG). Similarly, if the study only considered those who were persistently obese/overweight through childhood during the follow-up, the association was also much stronger (almost 5 fold increased risk of obesity/overweight for in-utero MF level > 1.5 mG vs. < 1.5 mG).

"EMF exposure during pregnancy could impact the fetal development, including endocrine and metabolic systems, predisposing offspring to higher risk of obesity," Dr. Li said. He added that environmental impacts tend to be amplified during fetal development both in terms of affecting multiple organ systems and having long-lasting changes to physiology, such as to the endocrine systems and hormone receptors.

Researchers examined maternal factors, prenatal factors, childhood factors, outcome measures, and other factors that could be confounders. Among 18 factors examined, only family income and habits of eating fruits and vegetables varied among the three maternal MF exposure groups. However, there was not consistent pattern of MF exposure with family income: women with either low or high family income had lower MF exposure level than women with medium family income. Children eating more fruits and vegetables tended to have a mother who had higher MF exposure during pregnancy. There was no difference among the three MF groups in the average number of weight measurements per child. The proportion of children who remained in the Kaiser Permanente Northern California integrated care delivery system at the end of the study (11 years and older) was almost identical in all three groups. None of the 18 factors examined could explain the observed association.

"Expectant mothers should take this new research into account, but they should not panic," said Ruth Shaber, MD, medical director of the Center for Healthcare Delivery at the Kaiser Permanente Care Management Institute. "We still have a lot more to learn about the impact of the environment on pregnancy and young children."

Explore further: Study finds exposure to magnetic fields in pregnancy increases asthma risk

Related Stories

Study finds exposure to magnetic fields in pregnancy increases asthma risk

August 1, 2011
Women with high exposure to magnetic fields during pregnancy may have a higher risk of asthma in their children, according to a Kaiser Permanente study appearing online in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Breastfeeding can reduce risk of childhood obesity

February 8, 2012
Children of diabetic pregnancies have a greater risk of childhood obesity, but new research from the Colorado School of Public Health shows breastfeeding can reduce this threat.

Understanding causes of obesity in Aboriginal children

January 24, 2012
To fully understand the causes of the obesity epidemic in Aboriginal children requires an understanding of the unique social and historical factors that shape the Aboriginal community. A review article published in Applied ...

Diabetes can be predicted 7 years before pregnancy with blood sugar and body weight

May 26, 2011
A woman's risk of developing diabetes during pregnancy can be identified up to seven years before she becomes pregnant based on routinely assessed measures of blood sugar and body weight, according to a Kaiser Permanente ...

Maternal smoking causes changes in fetal DNA

May 18, 2011
Children whose mothers or grandmothers smoked during pregnancy are at increased risk of asthma in childhood, but the underlying causes of this are not well understood. Now a new study indicates changes in a process called ...

Weight gain between first and second pregnancies increases woman's gestational diabetes risk

May 23, 2011
Compared with women whose weight remained stable, body mass index gains between the first and second pregnancy were associated with an increased risk of gestational diabetes mellitus in the second pregnancy. But losing weight ...

Recommended for you

Shaming overweight kids only makes things worse

November 20, 2017
(HealthDay)—Overweight kids who are shamed or stigmatized are more likely to binge eat or isolate themselves than to make positive changes such as losing weight, a leading pediatricians' group says.

Link between obesity and cancer is not widely recognized

November 17, 2017
A new study published in the Journal of Public Health has shown that the majority of people in the United Kingdom do not understand the connection between weight issues and cancer. Obesity is associated with thirteen types ...

Reversing negative effects of maternal obesity

November 8, 2017
A drug that increases energy metabolism may lead to a new approach to prevent obesity in children born to overweight mothers, UNSW Sydney researchers have found.

Serving water with school lunches could prevent child, adult obesity: study

November 7, 2017
Encouraging children to drink plain water with their school lunches could prevent more than half a million youths in the U.S. from becoming overweight or obese, and trim the medical costs and indirect societal costs associated ...

Why do some obese people have 'healthier' fat tissue than others?

November 1, 2017
One little understood paradox in the study of obesity is that overweight people who break down fat at a high rate are less healthy than peers who store their fat more effectively.

Engineered protein treatment found to reduce obesity in mice, rats and primates

October 19, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers with pharmaceutical company Amgen Inc. report that an engineered version of a protein naturally found in the body caused test mice, rats and cynomolgus monkeys to lose weight. In their ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.