Background: There has been increasing interest in the concept that exposures to environmental chemicals may be contributing factors to the epidemics of diabetes and obesity. On 11-13 January 2011, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Division of the National Toxicology Program (NTP) organized a workshop to evaluate the current state of the science on these topics of increasing public health concern.
Objective: The main objective of the workshop was to develop recommendations for a research agenda after completing a critical analysis of the literature for humans and experimental animals exposed to certain environmental chemicals. The environmental exposures considered at the workshop were arsenic, persistent organic pollutants, maternal smoking/nicotine, organotins, phthalates, bisphenol A, and pesticides. High-throughput screening data from Toxicology in the 21st Century (Tox21) were also considered as a way to evaluate potential cellular pathways and generate -hypotheses for testing which and how certain chemicals might perturb biological processes related to diabetes and obesity.
Conclusions: Overall, the review of the existing literature identified linkages between several of the environmental exposures and type 2 diabetes. There was also support for the "developmental obesogen" hypothesis, which suggests that chemical exposures may increase the risk of obesity by altering the differentiation of adipocytes or the development of neural circuits that regulate feeding behavior. The effects may be most apparent when the developmental exposure is combined with consumption of a high-calorie, high-carbohydrate, or high-fat diet later in life. Research on environmental chemical exposures and type 1 diabetes was very limited. This lack of research was considered a critical data gap. In this workshop review, we outline the major themes that emerged from the workshop and discuss activities that NIEHS/NTP is undertaking to address research recommendations. This review also serves as an introduction to an upcoming series of articles that review the literature regarding specific exposures and outcomes in more detail.