Magazine article Population Briefs

Study Finds Link between Phthalates and Low Birth Weight

Magazine article Population Briefs

Study Finds Link between Phthalates and Low Birth Weight

Article excerpt

Phthalates, chemicals used to make plastics more flexible, are ubiquitous in the environment. They are found in the bottles of many personal care products; in flooring, shower curtains, and raincoats; and in medical tubing and fluid bags. They have been found to be endocrine disruptors, meaning that they can alter hormone levels in the body.

Animal studies have shown that increased exposure to phthalates is tightly linked to low birth weight in male offspring. Before now, however, there had been no studies on the effects of phthalates on birth weight in people. To address this knowledge gap, Population Council Bixby Fellow Yunhui Zhang, Council biomedical researcher Renshan Ge, and their colleagues at Fudan University and Second Military Medical University in China examined phthalate levels in 201 mother--newborn pairs in Shanghai, China to determine whether there is a link between human low birth weight and phthalates.

Low birth weight

Infants born weighing less than 2500 grams, about 5.5 pounds, are considered to be of low birth weight. Almost a quarter of all babies born worldwide, more than 30 million infants annually, weigh less than 2500 grams. These babies, particularly those in developing countries, are susceptible to postnatal complications and infections. They have a higher death rate than heavier infants. A number of factors, including malnutrition in the mother, her socioeconomic status, and her exposure to smoking or secondhand smoke, are known to contribute to low birth weight.

During 2005-06, the researchers enrolled 88 mother--newborn pairs in which the baby had low birth weight and 113 pairs in which the baby was born at a normal weight. The pairs in both groups were similar in key characteristics, such as socioeconomic status, prenatal care, and the mother's pre-pregnancy body mass index.

"Numerous studies have found that the effects of phthalates are more significant in children than adults," explained Zhang. "A fetus, because it is still in early stages of development, might have yet further susceptibility to the potentially adverse effects of phthalates. …

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