Health experts are scrambling to gain a better understanding of the roots of the childhood obesity epidemic that is sweeping the nation. Of course it makes sense that feeding children fatty foods and limiting opportunities for exercise may be the main culprits. Studies have shown that both a pregnant mom's diet and her exercise level may influence her baby's future chances of maintaining a healthy weight. But one researcher is arguing that the real problem goes even deeper — to the chemicals that kids are exposed to in the womb.
Dr. Jerrod Heindel, acting chief of Cellular, Organ & Systems Pathobiology in the Division of Extramural Research and Training at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, spoke recently at a conference entitled, “Chemicals, Obesity and Diabetes: How Science Leads Us To Action.” Heindel argued that since fetuses and young children whose organs are still developing are particularly sensitive to chemicals, these chemicals may play a role in whether or not they become obese.
According to Heindel, many chemicals mimic hormones and disrupt the endocrine system and this can lead to conditions such as obesity, early puberty, asthma and attention deficit disorders. Some chemicals may even alter a person's “set point” so they do not feel full even though their body has had enough to eat. These people inadvertently keep eating and thus develop weight problems.
Heindel noted that many of the diseases which might be caused by in utero chemical exposure may not manifest themselves until much later in a child's life.
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