A second theory is that maybe parents today are raising children in environments
that are not as healthy as they used to be. No doubt there are many children growing
up in unhealthy places, and hundreds of thousands that are homeless for a few weeks
to years during their formative years. Still, there are many children growing up with
developmental problems in two-parent families where there are no obvious sources of
unusual stress or unhealthy living conditions, as well as many children growing up
healthy despite far less than ideal home environments.
New science is solidifying support for a third explanation involving changes in
what pregnant women, infants and children are eating and drinking. Food and beverages are the fuel for human growth from conception
through adolescence, but they are also common carriers
for chemicals and other contaminants, many of which
can disrupt normal developmental patterns. New insights and research on this have given rise to one of the
hottest areas of science today: the developmental or
fetal origins of adult disease.
A decade ago a modest number of studies linked exposures to pesticides, other chemicals or nutritional de-ficiencies during fetal development to increased risk of
problems later in life with immune system function, reproduction, management of blood sugar, or neurological development and behavior. Today, thousands of
scientists from around the world are pursuing diverse
lines of research designed to establish how, when, and
why the intricate patterns of development in the womb
and during the first years of life are sometimes knocked
In March, the Organic Center released a report exploring how food and dietary choices can impact trends
in overweight, obesity and diabetes, with special focus
on the fetal origins of adult disease. “That First Step:
Organic Food and a Healthier Future,” written by Drs.
Christine McCullum-Gómez, Charles Benbrook and Richard Theuer, highlights six
ways in which sound dietary choices and organic food can lay a firmer foundation for
healthy development and lifelong health.
getting full” signal to the brain. When
this signal is weak or delayed, the stage is
set for weight problems, diabetes and
other chronic disease.
The Epigenetic Link. Significant dis-
ruption of fetal development, especially
in the first trimester, typically results in a
miscarriage, many of which go unno-
ticed. Society is grappling today with the
consequences of generally much
more subtle changes that hap-
pen during pregnancy. These
“epigenetic” changes can trig-
ger abnormal patterns of cell
differentiation that alter the de-
velopmental and health trajec-
tories of individuals, without
altering an individual’s under-
lying DNA. Hence the label,
In addition, science has
now convincingly proven that
in the case of epigenetics, the
timing of exposure is just as
important, and in some cases,
more important than the dose
levels delivered to the develop-
ing embryo and fetus. While
these epigenetic changes may
not be noticeable at birth, they
can evolve into health issues
and chronic disease later in life.
And risks for epigenetic changes continue as a child develops through adolescence. The average child in America is
exposed to 10 to 13 pesticides daily
through food and beverages, based on an
analysis of food consumption and pesticide residue data collected by the U.S.
Department of Agriculture (USDA). 5
Fresh fruits and vegetables, and juices account for nearly half of these exposures.
Milk contributes two to three additional
residues, and drinking water another
three. Exposures are clearly happening,
which leads to the question—how risky
are these residues?
Weighing the Pesticide Risk.
Opinions vary widely among scientists regarding whether contemporary pesticide
levels in the diet pose risks worth worrying about. In general, most scientists
A mother’s diet plays a
In the Beginning
major role in determining
how many synthetic chemi-
cals are present in amniotic
fluids which could predis-
pose the child to diabetes or
Three of the six ways are grounded in the human reproductive cycle and play out
in the months before a child is conceived, during fetal growth, and through adolescence. The Center ’s report cites over 150 studies in concluding that a well-balanced
diet composed of ample organic fruits and vegetables, dairy and grain products will:
1. Lay the groundwork for normal endocrine system regulation of blood sugars, lipids, energy intake and immune system functions.
2. Establish and help sustain taste-based preferences in the child for familiar nutrient-dense
and flavorful foods.
3. Largely eliminate dietary exposures to pesticides.
A 2009 study in Environmental Health Perspectives reported that a mother’s diet plays
a major role in determining how many synthetic chemicals are present in amniotic fluids and whether the levels approach those capable of disrupting normal development
by, for example, predisposing the child to diabetes or reproductive problems. 4 The diet
during pregnancy can also impact the “wiring” of the child’s satiety mechanism, which
is the biochemical/neurological pathway in the body that transmits the crucial “I am