THURSDAY, April 5 (HealthDay News) -- Exposure to a type of pesticide commonly used on crops eaten by U.S. consumers is linked to shorter pregnancies and smaller babies, new research says.
The pesticides are known as organophosphates, which kill insects by disrupting their brains and nervous systems. Originally developed as nerve poisons during World War II, they can disrupt human nervous systems as well, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The effects seen in the study were relatively small. Pregnancies for women exposed to higher levels of organophosphates had babies that were, on average, 1/3 pound lighter than women exposed to lower levels of the pesticides, and their pregnancies were about three to four days shorter.
Spread out over millions of babies, however, lighter babies and shorter pregnancies could have serious health consequences, said senior study author Dr. Bruce Lanphear, a clinician scientist at the Child & Family Research Institute at BC Children's Hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia.
"When we see a [1/3 pound] reduction in birth weight, we have to start to take notice," Lanphear said. "For an individual kid, it's maybe not a big deal, but for a population it can be. If you shift the whole population down [1/3 pound], it can lead to dramatic increases in kids who are very small. What we see is subtle shifts that, across a whole population, could have dramatic effects on the premature rate."
Prior research also has found that exposure to higher levels of organophosphates during pregnancy is associated with lower IQs and more behavior problems in children.
The study is published in the April 5 online edition of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
Use of organophosphates has declined in recent years, but it remains the most commonly used insecticide, said Lanphear, who is also a professor at
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