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Offspring Exposed to Lead have a Greater Risk of Obesity

Update Date: Aug 09, 2014 08:55 AM EDT

Lead exposure has been linked to neurological complications. However, according to a new study conducted in mice models, offspring who have been exposed to lead through their mothers have an increased risk of obesity.

In this study, researchers from the University of Michigan School of Public Health exposed female mice to lead two weeks before they were mated. The lead exposure continued throughout the mice's pregnancy and nursing. The team measured the offspring's energy expenditure, spontaneous activity, food intake, body weight and body composition when they were three, six and nine months old. When the mice turned nine-months-old, the researchers tested them for glucose tolerance.

The researchers found that male offspring weighed more than the mice from the control group. Male mice also experienced spikes in body fat at three-months-old. Male and female mice that received the highest dose of lead ate more than the mice from the control group. Males at the age of nine-months also had impaired insulin levels.

"The data support the obesogen hypothesis that toxicant exposures in the womb contribute to the higher rate of obesity," said Dana Dolinoy, the John G. Searle Assistant Professor of Environmental Health Sciences and senior author of the study reported by Medical Xpress. "There are certain chemicals that are considered the hallmarks of the obesity epidemic, and lead has not been not one of them."

Lead author Christopher Faulk, research fellow in the Dolinoy Lab-Environmental Epigenetics and Nutrition, added, "To see that the level I and others have considered very low has such statistical significance in this study is alarming. There is no minimum safe level for lead. Our research really supports this."

The report, "Perinatal Lead (Pb) Exposure Results in Sex-Specific Effects on Food Intake, Fat, Weight and Insulin Response across the Murine Life-Course," was published in PLOS ONE.

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