CINCINNATI — Scientists have known for years that a mom’s experiences and exposures during pregnancy can have an impact on her unborn baby. New research now sheds light on the connection between exposure to toxic chemicals in the womb and teen anxiety.
COVID isolation, social media, bullying – childhood anxiety has been on the rise for years. Nearly one in three teens ages 13 to 18 will experience anxiety. While researchers are learning more about psychological risk factors for anxiety, they know little about environmental factors, like toxins.
Scientists are now focusing on a class of chemicals called PBDEs – flame retardants that are now banned, but were used in common household products, like chairs, foam, cushions, carpets, and car seats.
Researchers enrolled 460 pregnant women to study the relationship between exposure to the flame retardants and their children’s mental health.
“It started roughly during the second trimester, and then, these children have been followed over time,” said Jeffrey Strawn, MD, a psychiatrist at the University of Cincinnati.
Researchers said exposure to the chemicals occurred during a critical time in pregnancy – a time when the nerve cells in the brain were being formed and migrating to new areas of the brain.
Dr. Strawn explained, “Exposure during that period was associated with a small, but a significant increase in anxiety.”
Dr. Strawn said the study showed the chemicals increased anxiety in teens by 10 to 20 percent. Researchers say they’ll focus on improving interventions for kids at higher risk for anxiety.
The PBDEs were banned in the United States in 2004, but Dr. Strawn said many older consumer products still contain the chemicals.
Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Producer; Kirk Manson, Videographer; Roque Correa, Editor.
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