October 15, 2011

Obesity can begin in the womb, doctor says

WATERVILLE — A bad start can last a lifetime.

So while munching potato chips and being a couch potato can result in obesity, so too can endocrine-disrupting chemicals that impact fetuses in the womb.

That’s according to 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. Heindel was one of several speakers at a conference, “Chemicals, Obesity and Diabetes: How Science Leads Us To Action,” held Friday at Colby College.

He said a majority of diseases that take hold during the first weeks or months of life may not show up clinically until many years later.

Heindel said fetuses and young children whose organs are still developing are particularly sensitive to chemicals. And many chemicals, he said, mimic hormones and disrupt the endocrine system. That can lead to a host of problems, he said, including obesity, early puberty, asthma and attention deficit disorders.

Some chemicals, said Heindel, can alter people’s “set point” so they do not feel full, keep eating and develop weight problems.

And obesity is a tsunami engulfing the United States, said Dr. Michael Dedekian, a pediatrician specializing in endocrinology and diabetes at Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center.

“It’s the major public health issue of our time,” he said.

Dedekian said 17 percent of children and nearly 40 percent of adults in the U.S. are obese; 30 to 40 percent of children and 80 percent of adults are overweight.

While Dedekian said personal responsibility and parental responsibility are key to weight management, but he added that causes of obesity are complex and include genes, parenting, environment, mental health, hormones, food quality and lifestyle.

Because of the complexity of causes, and due to the disease’s devastating impacts, Dedekian said cooperation is needed among communities and governments, as well as medical professionals and exercise therapists to combat the problem.

Dedekian works with families to change lifestyles and eating habits. Among the children he treats, he said about 50 percent have success getting to and maintaining a healthy weight.

Bruce Blumberg, a professor in the Department of Developmental and Cell Biology at the University of California Irvine, said in the last two decades when obesity rates have ballooned in this country, so too have the number of health clubs.

Financial costs to treat the problem have also soared.

In 2005, Blumberg said the annual health-care costs associated with obesity totaled $75 billion. In 2009, such costs had risen to $147 billion.

And it might get worse.

Blumberg cited the Sweden Överkalix study published in 2005 that indicated that what one generation ate impacted mortality rates of their grandchildren.

Beth Staples — 861-9252

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Further Discussion

Here at OnlineSentinel.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)