For years scientists have been leery of the negative effects of phthalates, a chemical compound that is used for coating pills, making lubricants, binders, baby powders, lotions, shampoos and many other household products. Although inactivity and poor diet influence obesity, Mount Sinai researchers found that phthalate may also play a role in the rising childhood obesity rates in this country. The percentage of obese children between the ages of 6 and 11 in the United States went from 7 percent in 1980 to more than 40 percent in 2008, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For one year, the Mount Sinai study measured the phthalate levels, weight and BMI of 387 Black and Hispanic children in New York City, where more than one in five children in public schools are obese. Tests found that 97 percent of the participants had been exposed to phthalates and that there is a correlation between concentrations of  phthalates with BMI and waist circumference of overweight children.

“Research has shown that exposure to these everyday chemicals may impair childhood neurodevelopment, but this is the first evidence demonstrating that they may contribute to childhood obesity,” says the study’s lead author Susan Teitelbaum, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “While the data are significant, more research is needed to definitively determine whether phthalate exposure causes increases in body size.” Phthalates are also “endocrine disruptors” because they mimic the bodies’ hormones and were thought to have influence on a few reproductive and neurological disorders before this study.

Well, this is certainly frightening.  In light of the staggering obesity statistics, will these findings will change any laws or FDA regulations? Or will our reliance on these products (and economic ties to phthalate producers) keep them on our shelves?