Exposure to phthalates may raise childhood obesity risk

By Helen Albert

Obese children have higher exposure to phthalates than nonobese children, suggest results presented at ENDO 2012 in Houston, Texas, USA, the annual meeting of The Endocrine Society.

"Although this study cannot prove causality between childhood obesity and phthalate exposure, it alerts the public to recognize the possible harm and make efforts to reduce this exposure, especially in children," said Mi Jung Park (Inje University College of Medicine, Seoul, Korea), who presented the results, in a press statement.

Phthalates are commonly used as plastic softeners for children's toys and in household products, as well as for a wide range of other purposes.

As exposure to these chemicals has previously been associated with endocrine disruption and obesity in adults in several studies, Park and team evaluated whether high exposure to these chemicals may be linked to obesity in children.

They enrolled 204 children between the age of 6 and 13 years, 105 of whom were obese and 99 of whom were of normal weight for their age and gender. Serum di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), a phthalate metabolite, was used as a measure of exposure.

Park and team found that levels of DEHP were significantly higher in the obese compared with nonobese children, at a mean of 107.0 versus 53.8 ng/mL. This association was independent of factors such as physical activity and daily calorie intake.

When the children were divided into quartiles dependent on their serum DEHP level from those with the lowest detectable level (40.2 ng/mL) to those with the highest (69.7-177.1 ng/mL), those in the second, third, and fourth (highest DEHP) quartiles had significant 1.25-, 3.63-, and 5.04-fold increased risks for obesity compared with those in the first quartile (lowest DEHP).

In addition to body mass index, further analysis suggested that levels of DEHP positively correlated with serum alanine aminotransferase, uric acid, and body fat mass levels, but not with lipids, fasting blood sugar, or fasting insulin levels.

Park said that the results are promising but added that "more research in people is needed to determine whether DEHP exposure contributes to childhood obesity," in a statement to the press.

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