The Endocrine Society

The Endocrine Society

Issue: August 2012
Perspective from Hugh S. Taylor, MD
June 26, 2012
3 min read

Early exposure to phthalates increased risk for childhood obesity

Issue: August 2012
Perspective from Hugh S. Taylor, MD
You've successfully added to your alerts. You will receive an email when new content is published.

Click Here to Manage Email Alerts

We were unable to process your request. Please try again later. If you continue to have this issue please contact

HOUSTON — Children with high levels of di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, a common type of phthalate, were five times more likely to develop obesity compared with children who had lower exposure to the chemical.

Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) belongs to a group of industrial chemicals believed to have endocrine-disrupting or hormone-altering properties. The chemical is used for plasticizing PVC items such as vinyl floor tiles, toys, food packaging materials, medical devices (tubing, blood transfusion bag), or used as personal care products such as perfumes, lotions, soap, shampoo, nail polish and air fresheners.

“The prevalence of obesity has increased dramatically over the last 40 years; however, overeating and inactivity does not fully explain the current obesity epidemic,” Mi Jung Park, MD, PhD, of the Sanggye Paik Hospital at Inje University College of Medicine in Seoul, Korea, said during a press conference. “Children are of particular concern because they are more vulnerable to exposure than adults.”

Park and colleagues included 204 children (105 obese, 99 controls) aged 6 to 13 years in their study and aimed to determine whether serum DEHP levels were linked to the development of obesity in Korean children.

“Prenatal exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals may contribute to the risk of childhood obesity,” Park said.

Previous research has concluded that phthalates may alter gene expression linked to fat cell development and metabolism, she said.

In this study, they analyzed nutrient intake, physical activity, household income, height and weight, body composition, fasting glucose, insulin, AST, ALT, uric acid and lipid profiles. They also divided DEHP measurements into four quartiles, from the lowest (undetectable level (40.2 n/mL) to the highest (69.7 to 177.1 ng/mL).

According to data, DEHP levels were higher in obese children (53.8 ng/mL) compared with controls (107 ng/mL; P<.0001). In addition, there was a positive correlation with BMI (P=.015), serum ALT (P=.047), uric acid (P=.038) and body fat mass (P=.029).

Moreover, the increased risk for obesity (OR=1.25; 95% CI, 0.51-3.01) was observed in quartile two of the study, showing an elevation of serum DEHP in a dose-dependent manner. The risk for obesity was also determined in quartiles three (OR=3.63; 95% CI, 1.48-8.91), and four (OR=5.04; 95% CI, 2.00-12.71), following adjustments for age, gender, physical activity, household income and daily caloric intake.

“Only a few chemicals have been studied in humans, until now; many more will be found below the tip of the iceberg,” Park said. “EDCs are ubiquitous and we are exposed to these chemicals throughout our lifespan; we should alert the public of this harm and make efforts to reduce this exposure.” – by Samantha Costa

For more information:
  • The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.