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Research Grants

NIEHS/EPA Children’s Environmental Health Centers: Lifecourse Exposures & Diet: Epigenetics, Maturation & Metabolic Syndrome

Institution: University of Michigan
Center Director: Karen E. Peterson, Sc.D.
Project Period: June 2013 – May 2018

Research Questions

Project 1: Do endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) have a negative effect on physical growth and sexual maturation in children and adolescents?
Project 2: Can exposure to EDCs increase risk of metabolic syndrome?
Project 3: Do environmental exposures during pregnancy have lifelong effects on metabolic syndrome risk and reproductive development?

Keywords: BPA, Diet, Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, Epigenetics, Growth, Lead, Obesity, Phthalates, Prenatal Exposure, Preterm Birth, Reproductive Development


The chemicals, nutrients and other factors that children are exposed to in the womb can have lasting health impacts in later life. Chemicals such as lead, bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates are considered endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) because they interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse neurodevelopmental, reproductive, neurological and immunological effects. Researchers at this center are seeking to understand how early exposure to EDCs affects growth and sexual development during childhood and adolescence and the risk for diseases in adulthood. Children’s weight and the timing of their sexual development can affect their risk for diseases in adulthood, including diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and some cancers.

Project Abstract and Annual Reports: Lifecourse Exposures & Diet: Epigenetics, Maturation & Metabolic Syndrome
Center Website: Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention CenterExit

Research Projects

Project 1: Perinatal & Peripubertal Mixtures, Physical Growth, & Sexual Maturation
Most people in the U.S. are exposed to phthalates, BPA and other EDCs on a daily basis. Researchers are concerned that even low levels of EDCs may be associated with increased risk of obesity and earlier onset of puberty. Due to widespread exposure to these chemicals, results from this study could have a large public health impact.

Project Leader: John Meeker, Sc.D., University of Michigan

Project 2: Metabolic Consequences of In Utero and Peripubertal Toxicant-Diet Exposures
Metabolic syndrome is the name for a group of risk factors that raise your risk for heart disease and other health problems. Examples of risk factors that contribute to metabolic syndrome include high blood pressure, high blood sugar and a large waistline. Metabolic syndrome affects 25% of U.S. adults and up to 30% of obese adolescents. This project is studying how EDCs interact with diet to increase risk of metabolic syndrome in mothers and children.

Project Leader: Vasantha Padmanabhan, Ph.D., University of Michigan

Project 3: Developmental Exposures and Diet: Epigenetics of Metabolic Syndrome Risk
Research has established that environmental exposures early in life play a critical role in disease risk later in life. The environment can affect health and disease through epigenetic changes, which are changes to gene expression but not changes to the gene itself. This project is identifying epigenetic changes that result in metabolic syndrome and changes to reproductive development. Investigators are using mice to study exposures to EDCs, such as BPA, phthalates and lead, during pregnancy on the child’s metabolic status and reproductive development.

Project Leader: Dana Dolinoy, Ph.D., University of Michigan