South Korean researchers may have given more bad news for phthalates, the chemicals often found in plastics that make them softer and more pliable.
Researchers at the Inje University College in Seoul have released study results showing that phthalates may be linked to higher rates of obesity in children, reports U.S. News and World Report’s HealthDay. Earlier studies from various other research groups have linked phthalates to breast growth in boys, reproductive problems in men, and low birth weight.
The researchers found that a chemical in phthalates, di-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEPH), is believed to alter biological functions involved in fat metabolism. Children in the study with the highest DEPH levels had nearly five times the chance of being obese compared with those who had the lowest DEHP levels.
DEHP “may trigger the master regulator of fat creation and lipid metabolism,” says Dr. Mi-Jung Park, a pediatric endocrinologist, professor at the Inje University College of Medicine, and a co-author of the study. The chemical may do two different things that increase fat development, Park says.
It may reduce the effect of androgen, a male sex hormone, which lowers one’s body mass index, a measurement of body fat. Also, the chemical could disrupt thyroid function. Interfering with these functions can affect a person’s appetite and metabolic rate, Park says.
The study measured DEHP levels in 204 children ranging from 6 to 13 years old; 105 were considered obese, and 99 were considered to be of normal weight. The study was scheduled for presentation at the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting in Houston in June.
Dale McGeehon has been a journalist and editor for more than 25 years, covering chemical regulation and testing for Pesticides and Toxic Chemical News and innovations in material sciences for the National Technology Transfer Center. His writing credits include Omni and College Park magazines and The New York Times.