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Obesity is a growing problem worldwide, especially among children and young adults. Many factors contribute to obesity, including environmental exposures, which can drive epigenetic changes. Findings from a new study suggest that maternal exposure to parabens may increase the risk of obesity among children.

Parabens are widely used synthetic compounds that exert antibacterial and antifungal properties. They are commonly used in cosmetics, drugs, and some foods. Parabens can be ingested or absorbed through the skin. Some evidence suggests that parabens are endocrine disruptors.

The study had multiple arms that included an analysis of epidemiological data from the German LINA study and an experimental study in mice that simulated paraben exposure during pregnancy. The epidemiological data revealed that the children of women who had high exposure to parabens during pregnancy (assessed by urinary excretion) were more likely to be obese, an effect that was more pronounced in girls. Findings from the mouse study suggested that this increased risk of obesity was driven by epigenetic mechanisms associated with the altered expression of the proopiomelanocortin gene (known as POMC), which plays critical roles in the neuronal regulation of appetite, satiety, and food intake.

These findings suggest that prenatal environmental exposures to everyday compounds such as parabens may have far-reaching effects on the health of offspring.

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