Exposure to perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances and pediatric obesity: a systematic review and meta-analysis

By Brianna Frangione, Sapriya Birk, Tarek Benzouak, Laura A Rodriguez-Villamizar, Fatima Karim, Rose Dugandzic, and Paul J Villeneuve
Int J Obes (Lond)
October 31, 2023
DOI: 10.1038/s41366-023-01401-6


Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are potentially obesogenic for children. We undertook a systematic review to synthesize this literature and explore sources of heterogeneity in previously published epidemiological studies.


Studies that collected individual-level PFAS and anthropometric data from children up to 12 years of age were identified by searching six databases. We excluded studies that only evaluated obesity measures at the time of birth. A full-text review and quality assessment of the studies was performed using the Office of Health Assessment and Translation (OHAT) criteria. Forest plots were created to summarize measures of association and assess heterogeneity across studies by chemical type and exposure timing. Funnel plots were used to assess small-study effects.


We identified 24 studies, of which 19 used a cohort design. There were 13 studies included in the meta-analysis examining various chemicals and outcomes. Overall prenatal exposures to four different types of PFAS were not statistically associated with changes in body mass index (BMI) or waist circumference. In contrast, for three chemicals, postnatal exposures were inversely related to changes in BMI (i.e., per log10 increase in PFOS: BMI z-score of -0.16 (95% CI: -0.22, -0.10)). There was no substantial heterogeneity in the reported measures of association within prenatal and postnatal subgroups. We observed modest small-study effects, but correction for these effects using the Trim and Fill method did not change our summary estimate(s).


Our review found no evidence of a positive association between prenatal PFAS exposure and pediatric obesity, whereas an inverse association was found for postnatal exposure. These findings should be interpreted cautiously due to the small number of studies. Future research that can inform on the effects of exposure mixtures, the timing of the exposure, outcome measures, and the shape of the exposure-response curve is needed.

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