Low-Level Environmental Heavy Metals are Associated with Obesity Among Postmenopausal Women in a Southern State

Shelbie Stahr, Tung chin Chiang, Michael A. Bauer, Gail A. Runnells, Lora J. Rogers, Huyen Vi Do, Susan A. Kadlubar, L. Joseph Su

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Both arsenic and cadmium are reported to be toxic to humans. The use of saliva as a biomarker of low-level exposures to these elements has not been adequately explored, and the putative relationship between exposure and obesity is unclear. This cross-sectional study aims to investigate the relationship between salivary arsenic and cadmium concentrations and their association with obesity. Arsenic and cadmium concentrations were analyzed in human saliva samples by Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry on 270 randomly selected women who participated in the Arkansas Rural Community Health Study. Multivariable logistic regression was performed to evaluate the association between heavy metal concentrations and obesity. Stratified logistic regression was performed based on menopausal status. Generalized linear models were used to evaluate weight gain velocity. Significant positive associations were observed in postmenopausal women for both arsenic (OR = 4.43, 95% CI 1.91–10.28) and cadmium (OR = 2.72, 95% CI 1.23–5.99) concentrations, as well as significant trends among tertiles (p < 0.01 and p = 0.01, respectively). No relationship with obesity was evident among premenopausal women for either metal. A dose–response relationship was observed between increasing weight gain velocity and increasing metal concentrations. At concentrations well below governmental and industrial standards for acute toxicity, significant associations between obesity and concentration of these heavy metals are evident. The rate at which individuals gain weight is affected by metal concentrations and may play a role in the rapid increase in weight in postmenopausal women. These results might explain, in part, the missing variability in the increasing obesity pandemic in certain population exposed to these environmental toxicants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)269-280
Number of pages12
JournalExposure and Health
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Arsenic
  • Cadmium
  • Menopause
  • Obesity
  • Saliva

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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