Maternal levels of dichlorodiphenyl-dichloroethylene (DDE) may increase weight and body mass index in adult female offspring

Occup Environ Med. 2009 Mar;66(3):143-9. doi: 10.1136/oem.2008.041921. Epub 2008 Dec 5.


Objectives: To investigate the effect of prenatal exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dichlorodiphenyl-dichloroethylene (DDE) on weight, height and body mass index (BMI) in adult female offspring of the Michigan fisheater cohort examined between 1973 and 1991.

Methods: 259 mothers from the Michigan fisheater cohort were studied. Prenatal exposure to PCBs and DDE was estimated by extrapolating maternal measurements to the time that the women gave birth. 213 daughters aged 20-50 years in 2000 were identified and 83% of them participated in at least one of two repeated investigations in 2001/02 (n = 151) and 2006/07 (n = 129). To assess the effect of prenatal PCB and DDE exposure on anthropometric measurements, generalised estimating equations nested for repeated measurements (2001/02 and 2006/07) and for sharing the same mother were used. We controlled for maternal height and BMI and for daughters' age, birth weight, having been breastfed and number of pregnancies.

Results: Maternal height and BMI were significant predictors of the daughters' height, weight and BMI. Low birth weight (<2500 g) was significantly associated with reduced adult offspring weight and BMI. The weight and BMI of adult offspring were statistically significantly associated with the extrapolated prenatal DDE levels of their mothers. Controlling for confounders and compared to maternal DDE levels of <1.503 microg/l, offspring BMI was increased by 1.65 when prenatal DDE levels were 1.503-2.9 microg/l and by 2.88 if levels were >2.9 microg/l. Prenatal PCB levels showed no effect.

Conclusion: Prenatal exposure to the oestrogenic endocrine-disrupting chemical DDE may contribute to the obesity epidemic in women.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Adult Children*
  • Animals
  • Body Height
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Weight
  • Cohort Studies
  • Dichlorodiphenyl Dichloroethylene / blood
  • Dichlorodiphenyl Dichloroethylene / toxicity*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Fishes
  • Food Contamination
  • Great Lakes Region
  • Humans
  • Insecticides / blood
  • Insecticides / toxicity*
  • Maternal Exposure*
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / blood
  • Obesity / etiology*
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / blood
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / toxicity
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*


  • Insecticides
  • Dichlorodiphenyl Dichloroethylene
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls