Environmental Pollutants and Postnatal Growth



Postnatal growth is determined by both genetic and environmental factors and is strongly influenced by prenatal growth. Adverse environmental exposures of the mother have the potential to impact on fetal growth and decreased length and weight at birth can have life long consequences. From a developmental standpoint, the timing of an exposure may have a major influence on the consequences of that exposure. This concept is known as “windows of susceptibility”. Children are generally more vulnerable to the consequences of adverse environmental exposures than adults and receive a relatively higher dose in a given environment. Strong evidence exists for adverse effects on somatic growth from exposures to lead and tobacco smoke, especially when these exposures occur prenatally. There is some or emerging evidence for adverse effects on somatic growth from exposures to ambient air pollution, persistent toxic substances, noise, aflatoxins and arsenic. There is also some evidence that exposure to higher levels of sunlight during the first trimester of pregnancy results in increased birth length and adult height but that growth during childhood and early adolescence is greater in those with more sunlight exposure during the third trimester. Failure to take into account the effects of environmental exposures on somatic growth may lead to incorrect estimates of the environmental impacts on lung function growth and on respiratory health. Environmental exposures that limit fetal growth, resulting in postnatal catch-up growth, may increase the risk of childhood obesity.


Fetal Growth Environmental Tobacco Smoke Blood Lead Level Somatic Growth Sunlight Exposure 



Dichlorodiphenyl dichloroethene


Environmental tobacco smoke




Nitric oxide


Nitrogen dioxide


Polychlorinated biphenyls


Particulate matter with less that 10 μM aerodynamic diameter


Sulphur dioxide


Suspended particulate matter


United States of America


  1. Bearer C. Noise. In: Pronczuk-Garbino J, editor. Children’s health and the environment: a global perspective. Geneva: World Health Organization. 2005;194–201.Google Scholar
  2. Breton CV, Byun H-M, Wenten M, Pan F, Yang A, Gilliland FD. Prenatal tobacco smoke exposure affects global and gene-specific DNA methylation. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2009;200901–0135OC.Google Scholar
  3. Cohen Hubal EA, Sheldon LS, Burke JM, McCurdy TR, Barry MR, Rigas ML, Zartarian VG, Freeman NC. Children’s exposure assessment: a review of factors influencing children’s exposure, and the data available to characterize and assess that exposure. Environ Health Perspect. 2000;108:475–86.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Delemarre-van de Waal HA. Environmental factors influencing growth and pubertal development. Environ Health Perspect. 1993;101 (Suppl 2):39–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Fried PA, Watkinson B, Gray R. Growth from birth to early adolescence in offspring prenatally exposed to cigarettes and marijuana. Neurotoxicol Teratol. 1999;21:513–25.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Gauderman WJ, Gilliland GF, Vora H, Avol E, Stram D, McConnell R, Thomas D, Lurmann F, Margolis HG, Rappaport EB, Berhane K, Peters JM. Association between air pollution and lung function growth in Southern California children – Results from a second cohort. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2002;166:76–84.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Gauderman WJ, Avol E, Gilliland F, Vora H, Thomas D, Berhane K, McConnell R, Kuenzli N, Lurmann F, Rappaport E, Margolis H, Bates D, Peters J. The effect of air pollution on lung development from 10 to 18 years of age. N Engl J Med. 2004;351:1057–67.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Gilman SE, Gardener H, Buka SL. Maternal smoking during pregnancy and children’s cognitive and physical development: a causal risk factor? Am J Epidemiol. 2008;168:522–31.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Gladen BC, Ragan NB, Rogan WJ. Pubertal growth and development and prenatal and lactational exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls and dichlorodiphenyl dichloroethene. J Pediatr. 2000;136:490–6.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Hansen C, Barnett A, Pritchard G. The effect of ambient air pollution during ealy pregnancy on fetal ultrasonic measurements during mid-pregnancy. Environ Health Perspect. 2008;116:362–9.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Ignasiak Z, Slawinska T, Rozek K, Little BB, Malina RM. Lead and growth status of school children living in the copper basin of south-western Poland: differential effects on bone growth. Ann Hum Biol. 2006;33:401–14.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. IPCS. Environmental health criteria 237 principle for evaluating health risks in children associated with exposure to chemicals. Geneva: World Health Organization. 2006;22–54.Google Scholar
  13. Jedrychowski W, Maugeri U, Jedrychowska-Bianchi I. Body growth rate in preadolescent children and outdoor air quality. Environ Res. 2002;90:12–20.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Jones IE, Williams SM, Goulding A. Associations of birth weight and length, childhood size, and smoking with bone fractures during growth: evidence from a birth cohort study. Am J Epidemiol. 2004;159:343–50.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Karatza AA, Varvarigou A, Beratis NG. Growth up to 2 years in relationship to maternal smoking during pregnancy. Clin Pediatr (Phila). 2003;42:533–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Karmaus W, Asakevich S, Indurkhya A, Witten J, Kruse H. Childhood growth and exposure to dichlorodiphenyl dichloroethene and polychlorinated biphenyls. J Pediatr. 2002;140:33–9.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Kawada T. The effect of noise on the health of children. J Nippon Med Sch. 2004;71:5–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kim R, Hu H, Rotnitzky A, Bellinger D, Needleman H. A longitudinal study of chronic lead exposure and physical growth in Boston children. Environ Health Perspect. 1995;103:952–7.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Landrigan PJ, Garg A. Children are not little adults. In: Pronczuk-Garbino J, editor. Children’s health and the environment. Geneva: World Health Organisation. 2005;3–16.Google Scholar
  20. Latzin P, Roosli M, Huss A, Kuehni C, Frey U. Air pollution during pregnancy and lung function in newborns: a birth cohort study. Eur Respir J. 2009;33:594–603.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Mazhitova Z, Jensen S, Ritzen M, Zetterstrom R. Chlorinated contaminants, growth and thyroid function in schoolchildren from the Aral Sea region in Kazakhstan. Acta Paediatr. 1998;87:991–5.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Min K-B, Min J-Y, Cho S-I, Kim R, Kim H, Paek D. Relationship between low blood lead levels and growth in children of white-collar civil servants in Korea. Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2008;211:82–7.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Ong KKL, Preece MA, Emmett PM, Ahmed ML, Dunger DB, Team AS. Size at birth and early childhood growth in relation to maternal smoking, parity and infant breast-feeding: longitudinal birth cohort study and analysis. Pediatr Res. 2002;52:863–7.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Patandin S, Koopman-Esseboom C, de Ridder MA, Weisglas-Kuperus N, Sauer PJ. Effects of environmental exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls and dioxins on birth size and growth in Dutch children. Pediatr Res. 1998;44:538–45.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Rahman A, Vahter M, Smith A, Nermell B, Yunus M, El Arifeen S, Persson L-A, Ekstrom E-C. Arsenic exposure during pregnancy and size at birth: a prospective cohort study in Bangladesh. Am J Epidemiol. 2008;169:304–12.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Riese ML. Developmental studies of twins from birth on: heredity, environment, biomedical variables, and co-twin relations. Twin Res. 2003;6:325–7.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Romieu I, Sienra-Monge JJ, Ramirez-Aguilar M, Moreno-Macias H, Reyes-Ruiz NI, del Rio-Navarro BE, Hernandez-Avila M, London SJ. Genetic polymorphism of GSTM1 and antioxidant supplementation influence lung function in relation to ozone exposure in asthmatic children in Mexico City. Thorax 2004;59:8–10.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Salvi S. Health effects of ambient air pollution in children. Paediatr Respir Rev. 2007;8:275–80.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Schell LM. Effects of pollutants on human prenatal and postnatal growth: noise, lead, polychlorobiphenyl compounds, and toxic wastes. Yearbook Phys Anthropol. 1991;34:157–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Selevan S, Kimmel C, Mendola P. Windows of susceptibility to environmental exposures in children. In: Pronczuk-Garbino J, editor. Children’s health and the environment. Geneva: World Health Organization. 2005;17–26.Google Scholar
  31. Stanek K, Manton W, Angle C, Eskridge K, Kuehneman A, Hanson C. Lead consumption of 18- to 36-month-old children as determined from duplicate diet collections: nutrient intakes, blood lead levels, and effects on growth. J Am Diet Assoc. 1998;98:155–8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Stice E, Martinez EE. Cigarette smoking prospectively predicts retarded physical growth among female adolescents. J Adolesc Health. 2005;37:363–70.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Ulijaszek SJ. Between-population variation in pre-adolescent growth. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1994;48 (Suppl 1):S5–13; discussion S13–4.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Ulijaszek SJ. The international growth standard for children and adolescents project: environmental influences on preadolescent and adolescent growth in weight and height. Food Nutr Bull. 2006;27:S279–94.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Waldie KE, Poulton R, Kirk IJ, Silva PA. The effects of pre- and post-natal sunlight exposure on human growth: evidence from the Southern Hemisphere. Early Hum Dev. 2000;60:35–42.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Wild CP. Aflatoxin exposure in developing countries: the critical interface of agriculture and health. Food Nutr Bull. 2007;28:S372–80.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Yang IA, Fong KM, Zimmerman PV, Holgate ST, Holloway JW. Genetic susceptibility to the respiratory effects of air pollution. Thorax 2008;63:555–63.PubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Queensland Children’s Medical Research Institute, QCMRI, The University of QueenslandHerstonAustralia

Personalised recommendations