Shampoo, vinyl flooring ingredient linked to childhood obesity

Exposure to chemical found in personal care products may contribute to childhood obesity

Researchers from the Children’s Environmental Health Center at The Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York have found an association between exposure to the chemical group known as phthalates and obesity in young children – including increased body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference.

Phthalates are man-made, endocrine-disrupting chemicals that can mimic the body’s natural hormones. 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.

This study was the first to examine the relationship between phthalate exposure and measurements used to identify obesity in children. The paper is available online in the journal Environmental Research. The project was funded by the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, the National Cancer Institute, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Mount Sinai researchers measured phthalate concentrations in the urine of 387 black and Hispanic children in New York City, and recorded body measurements including BMI, height, and waist circumference one year later. The urine tests revealed that greater than 97 percent of study participants had been exposed to phthalates typically found in personal care products such as perfume, lotions, and cosmetics; varnishes; and medication or nutritional supplement coatings. The phthalates included monoethyl phthalate (MEP) and other low molecular-weight phthalates. The team also found an association between concentrations of these phthalates with BMI and waist circumference among overweight children. For example, BMI in overweight girls with the highest exposure to MEP was 10 percent higher than those with the lowest MEP exposure.

“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,” said the study’s lead author Susan Teitelbaum, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “This study also further emphasizes the importance of reducing exposure to these chemicals where possible.”

The percentage of obese children ages six to 11 in the United States has grown from seven percent in 1980 to more than 40 percent in 2008, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 15 percent of American children between the ages six and 19 are characterized as obese. In New York City, more than one in five children in public schools are obese.

Dr. Teitelbaum and the team at the Children’s Environmental Health Center plan to further evaluate the impact of these chemicals on childhood obesity. “While the data are significant, more research is needed to definitively determine whether phthalate exposure causes increases in body size,” she said.

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7 thoughts on “Shampoo, vinyl flooring ingredient linked to childhood obesity”

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  3. Thank goodness a diet of high calorie highly processed food and lack of exercise aren’t to blame for obesity.

    Another example of trying to scapegoat anything other than our own behavior for obesity.

    Diet and exercise, people. It’s that simple.

  4. Sure, the ingredient above is the absolute main reason for kids being fat, but maybe, just possibly, sitting on your ass all day playing whichever call of duty came out this month and eating bags full of junk food. could it be time we stop beating around the bush and just accept that these kids are fat because they eat what they eat and don’t exercise whatsoever? look back just 30 years, before video games consumed the life of children and you might see that the obesity rate is not near what it is today. so stop complaining about what ingredient in your shampoo could’ve added a fraction of a pound in a year and try to fix the obvious.

  5. Correlation does not equal causation. Pthalates are nonpolar compounds, making them fat-soluble. It stands to reason, then, that individuals with higher BMI will accumulate and retain higher concentrations of pthalates.

  6. I would like to recommend the free NAAFA Child Advocacy ToolkitSM (CATK) and other written guidelines/resources to assist you looking at programs.

    A Yale Rudd Center report reviewed existing research on weight stigma in children and adolescents, with attention to the nature and extent of weight bias toward obese youths and to the primary sources of stigma in their lives, including peers, educators, and parents. As a result of weight bias and discrimination, obese children suffer psychological, social, and health-related consequences.

    Rebecca Puhl of the Rudd Center further brings to light the stigmatization of large children in the following article.

    The NAAFA Child Advocacy Toolkit shows how Health At Every Size® takes the focus off weight and directs it to healthful eating and enjoyable movement. It addresses the bullying, building positive self-image and eliminating stigmatization of large children. The CATK lists resources available to parents, educators or caregivers for educational materials, curriculum and programming that is beneficial for all children. It can be found at:

  7. This summary is really a misleading characterization of what this study actually found. The only statistically significant relationships they found between pthalate concentration and BMI or waist size was with the most overweight/obese girls in their sample (< 85th percentile). There's no relationship between pthalates and normal weight girls, or any overall correlation between pthalate concentration and weight. What their data really seem to suggest is the opposite of the first line of this story: obesity may contribute to pthalate concentrations; that is, obese girls may retain pthalates more than normal weight girls.

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