Obesity is a leading cause of morbidity, mortality and health care expenditure whose incidence is rapidly rising across the globe. Although the cause of the obesity epidemic is typically viewed as a product of an increased availability of high calorie foods and/or a reduction in physical activity, there is mounting evidence that exposure to synthetic chemicals in our environment may play an important role. Pesticides, are a class of chemicals whose widespread use has coincided with the global rise of obesity over the past two decades. Importantly, given their lipophilic nature many pesticides have been shown to accumulate with adipose tissue depots, suggesting they may be disrupting the function of white adipose tissue (WAT), brown adipose tissue (BAT) and beige adipose tissue to promote obesity and metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes. In this review, we discuss epidemiological evidence linking pesticide exposure with body mass index (BMI) and the incidence of diabetes. We then review preclinical studies in rodent models which have directly evaluated the effects of different classes of insecticides and herbicides on obesity and metabolic dysfunction. Lastly, we review studies conducted in adipose tissue cells lines and the purported mechanisms by which pesticides may induce alterations in adipose tissue function. The review of the literature reveals major gaps in our knowledge regarding human exposure to pesticides and our understanding of whether physiologically relevant concentrations promote obesity and elicit alterations in key signaling pathways vital for maintaining adipose tissue metabolism.

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