Exposure to the now-banned insecticide DDT by previous generations may be a factor contributing to the rise in obesity, according to a recent study published in the journal BMC Medicine. Not only may your great-grandmother’s DDT exposure increase your risk of susceptibility to obesity, but you will also pass it down to your grandchildren even if you are not exposed to DDT at all.

Researchers from Washington State University used an animal model to determine the effect of DDT exposure through a number of generations. Interestingly, they found that the offspring of DDT-exposed mice were not at increased risk of obesity, but obesity developed in more than half of the third-generation offspring. They think that the insecticide may affect how genes are turned on and off—a phenomenon known as epigenetics.

Previously, the scientists had found epigenetic effects from many other environmental toxins, but the effects of DDT were far greater than other toxicants they had reviewed, highlighting the importance of the research. “The potential transgenerational actions of DDT need to be considered in the risk-benefit analysis of its use,” noted lead researcher Michael Skinner, PhD.

These findings point to the need for more regulation of the more than 80,000 chemicals in use today. These chemicals are not tested sufficiently and, in fact, are “innocent until proven guilty.”  Yet we might not be able to detect the harmful effects of such toxins until long after we’ve been exposed, as is the case with DDT. Toxic environmental exposures are not given the proper attention they deserve. That’s why I’m trying to help increase awareness.