Prenatal and Postnatal Exposure to Persistent Organic Pollutants and Infant Growth: A Pooled Analysis of Seven European Birth Cohorts

Environ Health Perspect. 2015 Jul;123(7):730-6. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1308005. Epub 2015 Mar 6.


Background: Infant exposure to persistent organic pollutants (POPs) may contribute to obesity. However, many studies so far have been small, focused on transplacental exposure, used an inappropriate measure to assess postnatal exposure through breastfeeding if any, or did not discern between prenatal and postnatal effects.

Objectives: We investigated prenatal and postnatal exposure to POPs and infant growth (a predictor of obesity).

Methods: We pooled data from seven European birth cohorts with biomarker concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyl 153 (PCB-153) (n = 2,487), and p,p'-dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (p,p'-DDE) (n = 1,864), estimating prenatal and postnatal POPs exposure using a validated pharmacokinetic model. Growth was change in weight-for-age z-score between birth and 24 months. Per compound, multilevel models were fitted with either POPs total exposure from conception to 24 months or prenatal or postnatal exposure.

Results: We found a significant increase in growth associated with p,p'-DDE, seemingly due to prenatal exposure (per interquartile increase in exposure, adjusted β = 0.12; 95% CI: 0.03, 0.22). Due to heterogeneity across cohorts, this estimate cannot be considered precise, but does indicate that an association with infant growth is present on average. In contrast, a significant decrease in growth was associated with postnatal PCB-153 exposure (β = -0.10; 95% CI: -0.19, -0.01).

Conclusion: To our knowledge, this is the largest study to date of POPs exposure and infant growth, and it contains state-of-the-art exposure modeling. Prenatal p,p'-DDE was associated with increased infant growth, and postnatal PCB-153 with decreased growth at European exposure levels.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Body Height / drug effects
  • Body Weight / drug effects
  • Child Development / drug effects*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dichlorodiphenyl Dichloroethylene / blood
  • Dichlorodiphenyl Dichloroethylene / toxicity*
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Europe
  • Female
  • Growth / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Maternal Exposure / adverse effects
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / blood
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / toxicity*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Dichlorodiphenyl Dichloroethylene
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls