June 29, 2009

Low Birth Weight Linked to Phthalates

Exposure to phthalates, chemical compounds used as plasticizers in personal care products, children's toys, and some medical devices, may put infants at risk of low birth weight, a new study shows.

Phthalate exposure can begin in the womb and has been associated with negative changes in endocrine function. The study examines the possibility that in utero phthalate exposure may also contribute to low birth weight.

Low birth weight is the leading cause of death in children under 5 years of age and increases the risk of cardiovascular and metabolic disease in adulthood.

To investigate the association between in utero phthalate exposure and low birth weight, Dr. Renshan Ge of the Population Council and colleagues from Fudan University and Second Military Medical University in Shanghai studied 201 newborns and their mothers between 2005 and 2006. Of the 201 infants studied, 88 were born with low birth weight.

Researchers analyzed samples of the infants' meconium, the first bowel movement after birth, and cord blood to determine phthalate levels. They found quantifiable levels of phthalate and phthalate metabolites in more than 70 percent of the samples. Infants with low birth weight had consistently higher levels of phthalates.

"The results showed that phthalate exposure was ubiquitous in these newborns," Dr. Ge was quoted as saying, "and that prenatal phthalate exposure might be an environmental risk factor for low birth weight in infants."

Although these associations are not conclusive, this study supports the accelerating efforts to minimize phthalate exposure

Source:  Pediatrics, June 2009