Association between Maternal Exposure to Lead, Maternal Folate Status, and Intergenerational Risk of Childhood Overweight and Obesity

Guoying Wang, Jessica Dibari, Eric Bind, Andrew M. Steffens, Jhindan Mukherjee, Romuladus E. Azuine, Gopal K. Singh, Xiumei Hong, Yuelong Ji, Hongkai Ji, Colleen Pearson, Barry S. Zuckerman, Tina L. Cheng, Xiaobin Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Importance: The first pediatric lead screening typically occurs at 1-year well-child care visits. However, data on the extent of maternal lead exposure and its long-term consequences for child health are lacking. Objective: To investigate the associations between maternal red blood cell (RBC) lead levels and intergenerational risk of overweight or obesity (OWO) and whether adequate maternal folate status is associated with a reduction in OWO risk. Design, Setting, and Participants: Prospective birth cohort study. The analysis was conducted from July 14, 2018, to August 2, 2019, at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. This study included 1442 mother-child pairs recruited at birth from October 27, 2002, to October 10, 2013, and followed up prospectively at Boston Medical Center. Main Outcomes and Measures: Child body mass index (BMI) z score, calculated according to US national reference data, and OWO, defined as BMI at or exceeding the 85th percentile for age and sex. Maternal RBC lead levels and plasma folate levels were measured in samples obtained 24 to 72 hours after delivery; child whole-blood lead level was obtained from the first pediatric lead screening. Results: The mean (SD) age of mothers and children was 28.6 (6.5) years and 8.1 (3.1) years, respectively; 50.1% of children were boys. The median maternal RBC lead level and plasma folate level were 2.5 (interquartile range [IQR], 1.7-3.8) μg/dL and 32.2 (IQR, 22.1-44.4) nmol/L, respectively. The median child whole-blood lead level and child BMI z score were 1.4 (IQR, 1.4-2.0) μg/dL and 0.78 (IQR, -0.08 to 1.71), respectively. Maternal RBC lead level was associated with child OWO risk in a dose-response fashion, with an odds ratio (OR) of 1.65 (95% CI, 1.18-2.32) for high maternal RBC lead level (≥5.0 μg/dL) compared with low maternal RBC lead level (<2.0 μg/dL). Child OWO was highest among children of OWO mothers with high RBC lead levels (adjusted OR, 4.24; 95% CI, 2.64-6.82) compared with children of non-OWO mothers with low RBC lead levels. Children of OWO mothers with high RBC lead levels had 41% lower OWO risk (OR, 0.59; 95% CI, 0.36-0.95; P =.03) if their mothers had adequate plasma folate levels (≥20.4 nmol/L) compared with their counterparts. Conclusions and Relevance: In this sample of a US urban population, findings suggest that maternal elevated lead exposure was associated with increased risk of intergenerational OWO independent of postnatal blood lead levels. Adequate maternal folate status appeared to be associated with lower OWO risk. If confirmed by additional studies, these findings have implications for prenatal lead screening and management to minimize adverse health consequences on children.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1912343
JournalJAMA Network Open
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 10 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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