Lead author Michele La Merrill, an assistant professor in the University of California, Davis' Department of Environmental Toxicology, said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned DDT in the United States in 1972 after nearly three decades of use.
However, the pesticide is still used for malaria control in other parts of the world, such as India and South Africa, and children born in there could have a higher risk of hypertension as adults, the researchers said.
La Merrill said traces of DDT, a persistent organic pollutant, also remained in the food system, primarily in fatty animal products.
"The prenatal period is exquisitely sensitive to environmental disturbance because that's when the tissues are developing," La Merrill said in a statement.
The study examined concentrations of DDT in blood samples collected from women who had participated in the Child Health and Development Studies.
The women were recruited from those who sought obstetric care through Kaiser Permanente Foundation Health Plan in the San Francisco Bay Area from 1959 to 1967. They also surveyed the adult daughters of those women to learn if they had developed hypertension.
"Evidence from our study shows that women born in the United States before DDT was banned have an increased risk of hypertension that might be explained by increased DDT exposure," La Merrill said. "And the children of people in areas where DDT is still used may have an increased risk, as well."
The findings were published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.