In utero exposure to diesel exhaust a possible risk factor for obesity

July 19, 2012

Pregnant mice exposed to high levels of air pollution gave birth to offspring with a significantly higher rate of obesity and insulin resistance in adulthood than those that were not exposed to air pollution. This effect seemed especially prevalent in male mice, which were heavier regardless of diet. These findings, published online in the FASEB Journal, suggests a link between diesel exhaust exposure in utero and bulging waistlines in adulthood.

"It is becoming clearer that our environment profoundly affects our health in ways that are little understood," said Jessica L. Bolton, Ph.D., a researcher involved in the work from the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University in Durham, NC. "We believe these data have important implications for as a consequence of socioeconomic conditions, in which low income neighborhoods tend to be disproportionately exposed to high levels of pollution, which we hope will inform policy and regulation decisions."

To make this discovery, Bolton and colleagues used two groups of pregnant , one of which was exposed to diesel exhaust during the latter half of pregnancy. The second group was exposed to filtered air for the same time period. The mice lived in specialized chambers for four hours each day breathing polluted air and then were returned to normal housing after these exposures. Prior to birth, some of the fetal brains of the mice from both groups were analyzed to measure and to get a "snap shot" of the immune response to the in utero condition. Once the offspring were adults, they were placed on either a low-fat diet (10% saturated fat) or a high-fat diet (45% saturated fat). All other nutritional aspects of the diets were identical. Scientists measured food intake, body weight and activity levels before putting the mice on their diets, and then weekly throughout the experiment. At the end of six weeks, metabolic hormones were assessed. They found that males from diesel-exposed moms were heavier than the males from clean air-exposed moms regardless of their diet as adults. In contrast, females from diesel-exposed moms were heavier than control females only if they were fed a high-fat diet as adults, and they never developed signs of .

"If you're pregnant and have a long drive into work, you might think twice about opening the car windows," said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of the . "It's already been established that risk factors for obesity (junk food, high fat-high cholesterol diets, etc.) begin as early as the womb. This important study shows that the air a mother breathes is also one of those risk factors."

Explore further: Moms who eat high-fat diet before, during pregnancy 'program' babies to be fat, at risk

More information: Jessica L. Bolton, Susan H. Smith, Nicole C. Huff, M. Ian Gilmour, W. Michael Foster, Richard L. Auten, and Staci D. Bilbo. Prenatal air pollution exposure induces neuroinflammation and predisposes offspring to weight gain in adulthood in a sex-specific manner. FASEB J, doi:10.1096/fj.12-210989

Related Stories

Moms who eat high-fat diet before, during pregnancy 'program' babies to be fat, at risk

September 16, 2011
New research in mice indicates that babies born to moms who eat a high-fat diet before and during pregnancy have a higher fat mass and smaller livers than babies whose moms consume low-fat fare, according to scientists at ...

Recommended for you

Kids with weight issues at high risk of emotional and behavioural problems

August 10, 2017
A new, in-depth study of New Zealand children and teenagers seeking help with weight issues has found their emotional health and wellbeing is, on average, markedly worse than that of children without weight issues.

Study finds 90 percent of American men overfat

July 24, 2017
Does your waist measure more than half your height?

Are sugary drink interventions changing people's behaviour?

July 19, 2017
An evaluation of efforts designed to reduce how many sugary drinks we consume shows some success in changing younger people's habits but warns they cannot be the only way to cut consumption.

Young adult obesity: A neglected, yet essential focus to reverse the obesity epidemic

July 18, 2017
The overall burden of the U.S. obesity epidemic continues to require new thinking. Prevention of obesity in young adults, while largely ignored as a target for prevention and study, will be critical to reversing the epidemic, ...

Weight gain from early to middle adulthood may increase risk of major chronic diseases

July 18, 2017
Cumulative weight gain over the course of early and middle adulthood may increase health risks later in life, according to a new study led by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. They found that, compared ...

Study finds children carry implicit bias towards peers who are overweight

June 23, 2017
Even children as young as 9 years old can carry a prejudice against their peers who are overweight, according to a new study led by Duke Health researchers. They might not even realize they feel this way.

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.