Phthalates May Play Role In Childhood Obesity

Phthalates may play a role in childhood obesity, according to an emerging study just published in the journal Environmental Research.

The research revealed a link between obesity in young children and exposure to phthalates, said Medical News Today, using waist circumference and body mass index (BMI) measures. The study was conducted by investigators from the Children’s Environmental Health Center at The Mount Sinai Medical Center and was funded by The National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, The National Cancer Institute, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said Medical News Today.

We’ve previously written that the chemicals that make plastic and vinyl more flexible—phthalates—have long been linked to adverse health events and are part of a group of endocrine disruptors, which interfere with the body’s hormone system. Phthalates can be found in nail polishes, cosmetics, perfumes, lotions, car interiors, floor tiles, raincoats, synthetic leathers, food packaging, medical devices, and shampoos and are used to carry fragrance, increase product flexibility and durability, coat time-release medications or supplements, and are used as solvents.

This is the first study to look at links between phthalate exposure and identifiers for childhood obesity, Medical News Today said. While poor diet and exercise is linked to obesity, some prevailing research has found that environmental chemicals, such as phthalates, could be involved with increasing childhood obesity rates.

For the study, 387 black and Hispanic New York City children were studied. Urine samples were used to measure phthalate levels and, after one year, BMI, waist circumference, and height were measured, said Medical News Today. The research revealed that over 97 percent of study participants were exposed to phthalates that included monoethyl phthalate (MEP) and other low molecular-weight phthalates.

The team found an association between BMI and waist circumference in overweight children with concentrations of the tested phthalates. As a matter-of-fact, overweight girls with the highest exposure to MEP tested with a BMI 10 percent greater than girls with the lowest MEP exposures, said Medical News Today.

Lead author of the study Susan Teitelbaum, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine explained that “Research has shown that exposure to these everyday chemicals may impair childhood neurodevelopment, but this is the first evidence demonstrating that they may contribute to childhood obesity. This study also further emphasizes the importance of reducing exposure to these chemicals where possible,” Medical News Today reported.

We recently wrote that another study found that the ubiquitous chemical might harm children’s mental and behavioral development as well as their muscular coordination and that a prior study found that phthalates were linked to impacts to thyroid function in humans.

Research has also revealed that exposure to phthalates in young girls can result in disruption in pubertal development, which can lead to later complications; can cause negative behaviors in young children; have been linked to breast enlargement in boys; have been linked to ADHD; and, in pregnancy, to the birth of boys who express less typically masculine behaviors and to an increase in premature births.

Phthalates have also been found to exacerbate dermatitis in tests with mammals. Some studies linked phthalate exposure to effects on the development of the male reproductive system: Infertility, undescended testes, and testicular development; penis and other reproductive tract malformations, such as hypospadias; and reduced testosterone levels. Some phthalates have been associated with liver cancer and problems with the developing fetus and are known to interfere with androgens.

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