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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Lead Exposure Can Make You Fat, Michigan Study Finds

Lead exposure is linked to several neurological problems. Now add obesity to the list.


Even at low levels, lead is associated with obesity in mice whose mothers were exposed to the chemical, researchers at University of Michigan have found. Specifically, male mice exposed to lead had about 10 percent increase in weight.

“The data support the obesogen hypothesis that toxicant exposures in the womb contribute to the higher rate of obesity,” said Dr. Dana Dolinoy, an assistant professor of environmental health sciences at University of Michigan.

There are certain chemicals that are considered the hallmarks of the obesity epidemic and lead has not been one of them until today.

“Our study is the first to look at how what a mother ingests, even before pregnancy, impacts her offspring,” Dr. Dolinoy noted.

In the study, mothers were exposed to lead through drinking water two weeks before mating then throughout pregnancy and nursing. The researchers found that starting in early life, males in the two highest exposure groups outweighed the controls, a trend consistent from youth to adulthood. An increase in body fat at all dosages showed up in males at three months of age, researchers noted. Overall, both sexes exposed to the highest dose ate more than the control group, with males eating more at six months of age and female consumption increasing at nine months of age. Exposed males also showed impaired insulin levels at nine months of age.

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