Effects of pollution on human growth and development: an introduction

J Physiol Anthropol. 2006 Jan;25(1):103-12. doi: 10.2114/jpa2.25.103.


Pollution is a worldwide problem and its potential to influence the physiology of human populations is great. Studies of human growth and development in relation to pollution have increased in number and quality since the mid-twentieth century. Many studies have found that some pollutants have detrimental effects on human growth, particularly prenatal growth. The heavy metal, lead, is commonly found in human populations and is related to smaller size at birth and studies have reported decrements that range up to about 200 grams. Noise stress from transportation sources also is related to reduced prenatal growth with somewhat smaller decrements reported. Studies of humans exposed to polychlorinated biphenyls, one of the persistent organic pollutants, have reduced size at birth, advanced sexual maturation and altered hormone levels related to thyroid regulation. Thus different pollutants exert effects through different physiological pathways. However, some studies have not observed these effects, which indicates that the situation is complex and requires further study with better study designs. Determining the effects of pollutants on human physiology and growth is difficult as it requires fairly large numbers of subjects who are not purposely exposed but for whom exposure can be measured. These effects of pollutants and the mechanisms of effect require further study to understand and, it is hoped, to blunt or block any detrimental effects on human health and well-being.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aging / drug effects
  • Anthropology, Physical / methods
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Environmental Pollution*
  • Female
  • Food Contamination
  • Growth Disorders / etiology
  • Growth and Development / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Lead Poisoning / complications
  • Male
  • Noise / adverse effects*
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / toxicity*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Research Design
  • Socioeconomic Factors


  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls