Early-life exposure to EDCs: role in childhood obesity and neurodevelopment

Nat Rev Endocrinol. 2017 Mar;13(3):161-173. doi: 10.1038/nrendo.2016.186. Epub 2016 Nov 18.


Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) might increase the risk of childhood diseases by disrupting hormone-mediated processes that are critical for growth and development during gestation, infancy and childhood. The fetus, infant and child might have enhanced sensitivity to environmental stressors such as EDCs due to their rapid development and increased exposure to some EDCs as a consequence of development-specific behaviour, anatomy and physiology. In this Review, I discuss epidemiological studies examining the relationship between early-life exposure to bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, triclosan and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) with childhood neurobehavioural disorders and obesity. The available epidemiological evidence suggest that prenatal exposure to several of these ubiquitous EDCs is associated with adverse neurobehaviour (BPA and phthalates) and excess adiposity or increased risk of obesity and/or overweight (PFAS). Quantifying the effects of EDC mixtures, improving EDC exposure assessment, reducing bias from confounding, identifying periods of heightened vulnerability and elucidating the presence and nature of sexually dimorphic EDC effects would enable stronger inferences to be made from epidemiological studies than currently possible. Ultimately, improved estimates of the causal effects of EDC exposures on child health could help identify susceptible subpopulations and lead to public health interventions to reduce these exposures.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Child Development / drug effects
  • Child Development / physiology
  • Endocrine Disruptors / toxicity*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders / chemically induced*
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders / metabolism*
  • Pediatric Obesity / chemically induced*
  • Pediatric Obesity / metabolism*


  • Endocrine Disruptors
  • Environmental Pollutants