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DDT: Effect passed on to future generations

New study finds pesticides so strong that women suffer if mothers or even grandmothers were exposed decades before.

Vipin Saini

New study finds pesticides so strong that women suffer if mothers or even grandmothers were exposed decades before. 

The chemicals in some pesticides are so strong that traces of them can be prevalent during some women's pregnancies, and impact the lives of their descendents, according to a new study. 

Published in the Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention medical research journal, the article looked for a relationship between maternal exposure to the pesticide ingredient dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT) and obesity rates in children and grandchildren. 

Scientists also looked at menarche in women descended from a mother with initial exposure to DDT, or when they received their first menstruation. 

Using a multi-generational cohort spanning 60 years, beginning in the late 1960s, researchers studied serum samples during pregnancies of women within this cohort, specifically looking for trace amounts of DDT. 

Blood samples were gathered during each trimester and concluded within three days of postpartum. 

The results found that the granddaughters of women with traces of DDT in their bodily serums during and after their pregnancies were more likely to be obese and see their periods at an early age.  

The report concludes that the findings are consistent with the hypothesis that grandmother exposures to DDT could have contributed the dramatic increases in obesity in current young adult women, including the granddaughter generation in the CHDS cohort.   


DDT was introduced into synthetic pesticides and insecticides in the 1940s. However, with increasing evidence suggesting DDT was harmful to the environment along with "declining benefits," the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) discontinued its use by 1972, per the agency’s website.  

Other medical literature studying adverse effects of DDT exposure links it to breast cancer and cardiometabolic disease. With this recent study, early menarche and obesity may be additional risk factors, even in ancestral exposure. 

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