Phthalates are plasticizers commonly used in scores of products, include personal care products with lotion and shampoo as well as household cleaners and more.
The study is not the first to link phthalates to obesity in children, but it is the first one to explore possible racial disparities. Researchers looked at 2,884 children of differing races, ages 6 to 19. According to Environmental Health News:
Black children have much higher levels of the chemicals in their bodies than children of other races, and for every tripling of certain compounds, they were 22 percent more likely to be obese
22% isn’t a shockingly high number, but it’s nothing to scoff at, either, as this information is pretty telling in regards to the rampant use of phathalates in personal care products. It seems like every study that comes out has additional compelling evidence as to how these chemicals are messing with our bodies. And while I’m not surprised to hear they they may play a role in obesity, Leonardo Trasande, author of the study, is dead on when he says:
The takeaway is we need to consider environmental exposures when looking at the obesity problem. Environmental chemicals may contribute independently of diet and exercise.
Still, other scientists aren’t quite convinced. Joe Braun of Brown University said:
It’s a big study and nationally representative, which is good. But since they measure phthalates levels in urine and obesity at the same time, it’s a chicken and egg problem. Do phthalates cause obesity or are obese children more exposed?
Jennifer Adibi, a professor of epidemiology at UCLA, said the results of the study were “interesting and scary.” She continued:
This is another reason to increase awareness among low income, African American and Hispanic populations and let them know they’re at an increased risk of exposure to these chemicals and that we’re seeing these associations (with obesity).
That’s a controversial position to take, as I’m sure that people will argue that race shouldn’t have been looked at in this study (although Trasande did apparently control lifestyle factors like diet and television watching).
Personally, every time I read another study or article about the risks of phthalates, it just makes me want to try as hard as I can not to put them anywhere near my body. Since their use is so prevalent, it’s difficult to avoid them completely, but, like HuffPo writer Maia James, I’m trying my hardest.