A new study finds that a class of chemicals called phthalates, which are found in many household and personal care products, may be linked to higher rates of obesity in children.
The researchers measured blood levels of a particular phthalate, di-ethylhexyl phthalate or DEHP, in 204 children ranging from 6 to 13 years old. Of those, 105 were considered obese and 99 were of normal weight.
Children with higher amounts of body fat had higher DEHP levels. The increased risk of obesity with elevated DEHP levels remained independent of physical activity or calorie intake.
While the exact mechanism for this effect is unknown, the researchers believe that DEHP may trigger the master regulator of fat creation and fat metabolism. It may reduce the effect of the male sex hormone androgen, which lowers body-mass index (BMI). DEHP may also disrupt thyroid function, which contributes to weight gain.
Other studies have linked phthalates to breast growth in boys, reproductive problems in men and low birth weight.
How Common are Phthalates?
Phthalates are added to a type of plastic called polyvinyl chloride (PVC) to make it flexible. They are also used to help some products retain their color and scent.
Sometimes referred to as plasticizers, phthalates can be found in a wide range of consumer products, including: perfumes, nail polish, vinyl floors, detergents, lubricants, food packaging, soap, paint, shampoo, toys, air fresheners and plastic bags. They are also used to make certain medical devices including intravenous bags, blood bags and different kinds of tubing.
In recent years the U.S. banned (permanently or temporarily) six specific types of phthalates including DEHP in any amount greater than 0.1 percent in children’s toys and certain other child care articles related to feeding and teething. However the bans don’t include all children’s products, including topical creams or shampoos which may contain phthalates.
As for other household or personal care products, U.S. manufacturers are not required to indicate phthalate content on the package or label. If listed at all, you may find these commonly used phthalates in products:
- DBP (dibutyl phthalate)
- DINP (diisononyl phthalate)
- DEP (diethyl phthalate)
- DEHP (di 2-ethylhexl phthalate)
- DMP (dimethyl phthalate).
- BBP (benzyl butyl phthalate)
- DNOP (di-n-octyl phthalate)
- DIDP (Diisodecyl phthalate)
Phthalates are often added to perfumes and fragrances so it’s a good idea to avoid products with “fragrance” in the ingredients list if you wish to avoid phthalates.
Fortunately, the growing awareness of phthalate concerns has led to an increasing number of “natural and organic” brand products that are “phthalate free.”
To find out whether a product contains phthalates or other potentially harmful chemicals, call the manufacturer or visit the company's website, or use the Environmental Working Group's Safety Guide to Cosmetics and Personal Care Products and search by product, ingredient, or company.
Medical News Today
U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences