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Sources of greater fetal vulnerability to airborne polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons among African Americans
  1. Hyunok Choi1,
  2. Frederica P Perera2
  1. 1Harvard School of Public Health, Department of Environmental Health, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  2. 2Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, New York, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Hyunok Choi, Department of Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health, 677 Huntington Avenue, Building I, Suite 1406, Boston, MA 02115, USA; hchoi{at}


Background This study attempted to clarify the household and mother's lifestyle factors that contribute to the greater fetal vulnerability of African-American individuals to airborne polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH).

Methods Non-smoking pregnant women with no known risks of adverse birth outcome were monitored for their personal exposure to airborne PAH. Birth outcomes were collected from the hospital medical record. Modification of the airborne PAH effects was statistically examined. In linear regression analyses, modification of PAH effect by demographic, socioeconomic and behavioural traits on birth weight and fetal growth ratio were respectively tested, adjusting for the gestational age, gender, parity, delivery season, maternal body mass index and weight gained during the present pregnancy.

Results Maternal obesity exacerbated the airborne PAH risk by −491 g per 25th to 80th percentile unit exposure (95% CI −197 to −786 g; p<0.01) among African Americans. In addition, frequent dietary intake of smoked, grilled or barbequed items independently reduced the birth weight of African-American newborns by −204 g (95% CI −21 to −387 g; p=0.03).

Conclusion Maternal obesity significantly exacerbated the risk of prenatal PAH exposure in African-American newborns. Also, frequent dietary consumption of PAH-laden food items posed an independent risk on the reduced birth weight among African Americans.

  • air pollution
  • birth weight
  • births SI
  • diet
  • obesity
  • obesity EPI
  • polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
  • pregnancy
  • prenatal

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  • Funding This work was supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) (grant numbers 5 P01 ES009600, R01ES014939, 5 R01 ES008977, 5 R01ES11158, 5 R01 ES012468, 5 R01ES10165), the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (grant numbers R827027, 82860901, RD-832141) and the US National Research Service Award (T32 ES 07069), Irving General Clinical Research Center (grant number RR00645), the Irving A Hansen Memorial Foundation, Gladys and Roland Harriman Foundation and an anonymous private foundation.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Patient consent Obtained.

  • Ethics approval This study was conducted with the approval of the the Institutional Review Board of the New York Presbyterian Medical Center.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.