According to research from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, exposure to phthalates in the womb can cause high body mass index and reduced lung function in children.
Phthalates are chemical compounds that are commonly used in plasticisers, lacquers, and varnishes. They are often found in consumer products such as toys, food packaging, clothing, solvents, detergents, and cosmetics. Phthalates from these products can leak into the environment over time meaning they are present in the air, dust, and food.
Exposure to phthalates can begin in the womb as the compounds are able to penetrate the placental barrier. Exposure to phthalates has been associated with developmental and reproductive health problems.
“Research has consistently found that gestational phthalate exposure is associated with increased risk of childhood asthma, but the evidence on its possible association with lung function is scarce and unclear,” explained researcher Magda Bosch de Basea, lead author of the study.
Compounds were present in nearly all mothers
The study analysed 641 mother and child pairs. Urine samples were collected from the mothers during pregnancy, which was used to measure gestational phthalate exposure. The children’s lung function was assessed and various stages of their development between the ages of four and 11.
The researchers detected all nine of the studied phthalate metabolites in almost 100% of the participant samples, indicating the ubiquity of these compounds. An association between phthalate exposure and reduced lung function was observed in each stage of development.
The researchers found that associations between certain metabolites, such as MiBP and MBzP, and lung function were only significant at younger ages. These results are consistent with previous findings from animal models that have suggested that the effects of these compounds on lung function reduce over time.
These findings, published in Environmental Pollution, support the European Union’s current restrictions on the use of these substances.
“The use of some phthalates is already banned in certain consumer products in the European Union. Although the associations observed in our study are relatively small in magnitude, the ubiquity of these substances and their known effects as endocrine disruptors in children lead us to suggest that these regulations should be extended to additional phthalates and to those countries that do not yet apply these restrictions,” said researcher Maribel Casas, senior co-author of the study.
Phthalates linked to high body mass index
A further study from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health found a link between exposure to the BP3 phthalate and higher body mass index and diastolic blood pressure in children. BP3 is a common ingredient in cosmetics and sunscreen as it helps filter UV light.
This study analysed data from 1,015 mother and child pairs. Exposure to eight phthalate metabolites was found in urine samples collected in the first and third months of pregnancy. The children’s body mass index and blood pressure were recorded when they reached 11 years of age.
“Along with the foetal and neonatal stages, puberty is considered to be one of the developmental windows in which the effects of endocrine disruptors are most likely to occur,” explained Nuria Güil, lead author of the study.
“Our findings shed light on the potential metabolism-disrupting effects of BP3 during puberty and underscore the need to impose stricter regulations on the use of this compound in certain products.”