Perinatal exposure to environmental estrogens and the development of obesity

Brief exposure early in life to DES increases body weight as the mice age

“We can no longer simply assume that overweight and obesity are just personal choices based on the foods we eat, but that complex events including exposure to environmental chemicals during development may be contributing to (the) obesity (epidemic).”


Dietary substances and xenobiotic compounds with hormone-like activity can disrupt the programming of endocrine signaling pathways that are established during perinatal differentiation. The consequences of this disruption may not be apparent until later in life but increasing evidence implicates developmental exposure to environmental hormone-mimics with a growing list of adverse health effects including reproductive problems and increased cancer risks.

Obesity has recently been proposed to be yet another adverse health consequence of exposure to endocrine disrupting substances during development. There is a renewed focus on identifying contributions of environmental factors to the development of obesity since it is reaching worldwide epidemic proportions, and this disease has the potential to overwhelm healthcare systems with associated illnesses such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Here, we review the literature that proposes an association of perinatal exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals, in particular those with estrogenic activity, with the development of obesity later in life. We further describe an animal model of developmental exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES) to study mechanisms involved in programming for obesity.

Our experimental data support the idea that adipocytes and the mechanisms involved in weight homeostasis are novel targets of abnormal programming of environmental estrogens, some of which are found in our foods as naturally occurring substances or inadvertently as contaminants.


  • Perinatal exposure to environmental estrogens and the development of obesity, Molecular nutrition & food research, PMID: 17604389, 2007 Jul.
  • Image credit commons.wikimedia.

Have your say! Share your views