Eating For Two: Food Pesticides Can Harm Babies in Utero

Study finds a link between pregnant mothers' of color who consume pesticides in their food and babies with lower IQs.

Posted: 04/25/2011 12:52 PM EDT
Filed Under health care

(Photo:  HECTOR CASANOVA/MCT)

If you needed another reason to consider eating more organic and local fruits and vegetables, this one might be it. Three new studies all found a link between lower-income pregnant African-American women and Latinas who consumed fruits and vegetables with higher levels of pesticides and having babies with lower IQs.

The Los Angeles Times reported:

In one study, researchers from Columbia University found that African American and Dominican women in New York City with the highest levels of chlorpyrifos, a type of organophosphate, in their umbilical-cord plasma had children with a slightly lower IQ by age 7 compared with those whose mothers had lower exposure — for every large increase in pesticide exposure, the children had about a 1- to 2-point decrease in IQ and 2- to 4-point decrease in working memory.

In another study, among Latinas and African American women in New York City, researchers from Mount Sinai found women with the highest levels of organophosphates in their urine had children with a slightly lower IQ — for every tenfold increase of a pesticide marker in the mother’s urine, children had a 3-point IQ drop at age 7. 

And in a study of Mexican women in the agricultural town of Salinas, UC Berkeley researchers measured pesticide exposure in the urine of pregnant women and found a 7-point IQ discrepancy between children whose mothers had the highest exposure compared with those who had the lowest.

Researchers also believed that these women could have also consumed these pesticides by breathing them in. These pesticides were once common in households before they were banned in 2002, but in inner cities, these insecticides were still common in the mid-2000’s to kill insects.

These trio of studies—the first to study how look at the effects of pesticides in the womb--speak to a slew of issues around the lack of accessibility to affordable quality foods in urban areas and high levels of pollution in inner cities. Brenda Eskenazi, a lead author on the Berkeley study told the Los Angeles Times, “In terms of the bigger picture, we have to weigh the potential negative effects of limiting the use of some pesticides in agriculture against the positive effects of using them if it means more food, and more accessible food, and lower priced food because we want to make sure there are adequate food resources for the whole country.”

But be clear: This study isn't saying stop eating fruit and veggies during pregnancy. You just need to be wary about what you are consuming. If eating organic and locally is not an option for you, don't stop eating fruits and veggies. Wash and scrub your fruits thoroughly and opt for a food cleanser like Veggie Wash or make one yourself with this recipe.

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