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Study shows a correlation between phthalate exposure and childhood obesity

January 20th, 2012

From Green Right Now Reports

Phthalates, chemicals commonly found in synthetic fragrances, body lotions and pliable plastic products, have been viewed with suspicion in recent years because they’ve been shown to act as endocrine disruptors.

Researchers at the Children’s Environmental Health Center at The Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York who decided to look more closely at the effects of phthalates have found an association with obesity in young children.

The researchers reported this week that children in their study who were obese exhibited the highest phthalate levels. This study did not show that phthalate exposure caused weight gain — but the correlation suggested that phthalate exposure could place a contributing role in obesity, according to a statement from the medical center.

The study, published in Environmental Research, relied on urine samples from 387 black and Hispanic children in New York City. The samples showed that 97 percent of the study participants had been exposed to phthalates, and those who showed the highest exposure also were the most overweight.

Girls whose samples showed the highest levels of monoethyl phthalate or MEP had a Body Mass Index (BMI) about 10 percent higher than those with the lowest levels of MEP.

Phthalates can be found in literally hundreds of consumer products, but are thought to enter the body mainly through goods that have skin contact or are ingested, such as body products, cosmetics and food packaging residues. Phthalates are also found in plastic flooring, medical devices and food processing materials. They are believed to interfere with human biology by mimicking hormones.

Public health experts are especially worried about childhood exposure to phthalates  because these endocrine disruptors can affect neurological development, said the study’s lead author, Susan Teitelbaum, an association professor of Preventative Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

“But this is the first evidence demonstrating that they may contribute to childhood obesity,” she said.

An estimated 40 percent of US children ages 6-11 were considered obese in 2008, according to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The percentage falls to 15 percent of American children ages 6-19.

The project was funded by the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, the National Cancer Institute, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

They are commonly used in plastic flooring and wall coverings, food processing materials, medical devices, and personal-care products. While poor nutrition and physical inactivity are known to contribute to obesity, a growing body of research suggests that environmental chemicals – including phthalates – could play a role in rising childhood obesity rates.

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