A couple’s exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, psychological stress, malnutrition, and other environmental stressors prior to conceiving a child may alter the child’s genetic structure and development, leading to increased risk of health issues later in life, according to a study led by Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor of environmental health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and professor of environmental medicine at the University of Southern Denmark.

The paper was published online August 4, 2015 in the journal Endocrinology. It is part of a series of papers, including a consensus summary, presented at the 4th Conference on Prenatal Programming and Toxicity (PPTOX IV), organized in 2014 in Boston by Grandjean with support from Harvard Chan School and Harvard NIEHS Center for Environmental Health.

Endocrine disrupting chemicals include phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA) used to make plastics, and several other substances that can accumulate in the body for years. If passed on to a fetus, the exposure can raise a child’s risk of becoming obese or developing a disease such as cancer later in life, Grandjean told Healthline in an August 4, 2015 article. “This chemical burden may affect the conception, or it may affect the fetal development later on, as the mother will generally share her chemicals with her child — and that continues after childbirth, as she may also excrete these substances in the milk,” he said.

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