Forever Chemicals During Pregnancy May Raise Risk of Childhood Obesity: Steps to Limit Exposure to PFAS Interview with:
Yun (Jamie) Liu

Department of Epidemiology
Brown University School of Public Health
Providence, Rhode Island,  What is the background for this study? 

Response: Childhood obesity has reached epidemic levels in the U.S., and can continue into adulthood, increasing the risks of developing cardiometabolic diseases, musculoskeletal disorders, and cancers. While a lack of physical activity and an unhealthy diet do not fully explain the genesis and trends of the obesity epidemic, some research suggests that fetal exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), may predispose children to a higher risk of obesity. Studies on this topic have been quite limited.   What are the main findings?

Response: In our study, which was much larger and more robust than previous research, we found that higher PFAS concentrations assessed in pregnancy are associated with a slightly higher childhood BMI and an increased risk of overweight or obesity. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Our study is the largest study of its kind. Although the effect sizes observed in the present analysis were subtle, they may have large effects on the population overall due to the ubiquity of PFAS exposure and high prevalence of obesity and overweight. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: Future studies should consider controlling for diet (e.g., high fish and shellfish consumption) and a lack of physical activity, which have been associated with PFAS levels and childhood obesity. Accounting for pregnancy-induced hemodynamic changes (e.g., expanded blood volume) is also important for future studies on such associations. More studies are needed to improve our understanding of the potential obesity-causing effects of PFAS that have not been extensively researched. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: Although it is not possible to completely avoid PFAS, parents and their children could limit their exposure to these “forever chemicals”:

1) Filters containing activated carbon or reverse osmosis membranes can remove PFAS from drinking water.

2) Containers and packaging for takeout and fast-food often have PFAS that can leach into food. Pregnant mothers and young children may want to try to avoid or limit takeout and fast food for this reason.

3) Frequent cleaning using HEPA filters while vacuuming can help decrease some exposure by removing PFAS-containing dust.

4) Stain-resistant rugs are treated with chemicals that contain PFAS. Those who wish to avoid PFAS might want to also avoid these types of floor coverings.

5) While it’s impossible to completely stop their babies and infants from putting objects in their mouths, some of these objects may contain PFAS, so whatever parents and caretakers can do to limit this behavior would be helpful. 


Liu Y, Wosu AC, Fleisch AF, Dunlop AL, Starling AP, Ferrara A, Dabelea D, Oken E, Buckley JP, Chatzi L, Karagas MR, Romano ME, Schantz S, O’Connor TG, Woodruff TJ, Zhu Y, Hamra GB, Braun JM; the program collaborators for Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes. Associations of Gestational Perfluoroalkyl Substances Exposure with Early Childhood BMI z-Scores and Risk of Overweight/Obesity: Results from the ECHO Cohorts. Environ Health Perspect. 2023 Jun;131(6):67001. doi: 10.1289/EHP11545. Epub 2023 Jun 7. PMID: 37283528; PMCID: PMC10246497.

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Last Updated on June 13, 2023 by weightcontrol