Chemical Used in Plastics May Affect Newborn Size

THURSDAY, June 25 (HealthDay News) -- As if expectant mothers don't have enough to worry about, new research suggests that a woman's exposure to phthalates, a chemical compound found in many plastics, may be linked to low birth weight in infants.

The report, to be published in the upcoming issue of The Journal of Pediatrics, found notable levels of the compound -- which is used to make hard plastics soft and flexible -- in the cord blood and first stools of more than 70 percent of infants included in the study. Higher levels of phthalates were found among those born with a low birth weight.

Low birth weight is a risk factor for children and the leading cause of death in those under 5 years of age. Cardiovascular and other diseases in adulthood have also been associated with low birth weight, according to information provided in a journal news release.

"The results showed that phthalate exposure was ubiquitous in these newborns, and that prenatal phthalate exposure might be an environmental risk factor for low birth weight in infants," study leader Dr. Renshan Ge, of the international Population Council, said in the news release.

Although the researchers did not find a direct link, the study adds more to the pile of evidence against phthalate exposure, which has already been associated with damage to endocrine function. Phthalates are found in many common household items, including food packaging, toys and shampoo.

The study, conducted by researchers from the International Population Council, and Fudan University and Second Military Medical University in Shanghai, looked at 201 babies and their mothers between 2005 and 2006. Eighty-eight of the newborns had low birth weight.

More information

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has more about phthalates.

SOURCE: The Journal of Pediatrics, news release, June 25, 2009

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