Phthalate exposure and children's health

Curr Opin Pediatr. 2013 Apr;25(2):247-54. doi: 10.1097/MOP.0b013e32835e1eb6.


Purpose of review: Phthalates are multifunctional chemicals used in personal care products, medications, and plastics. We reviewed the epidemiological literature examining the relationship between early life phthalate exposure and pediatric health outcomes.

Recent findings: Five studies from Asia, Europe, and the United States suggest that childhood exposure to di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) and butylbenzyl phthalate (BBzP) may increase the risk of allergic diseases including asthma and eczema. Six studies from four different prospective cohorts report that gestational BBzP, DEHP, di-butyl phthalate (DBP), and di-ethyl phthalate (DEP) exposures are associated with alterations in infant/toddler physical development as well as parent-reported externalizing, internalizing, and autistic-like child behavior. However, there are inconsistencies related to the specific phthalates and behavioral domains. Two small studies report shorter anogenital distance among male infants with higher gestational phthalate exposure.

Summary: Several epidemiological studies suggest fetal and childhood exposure to some phthalates may perturb normal development, with several studies consistently reporting increased risk of allergic diseases with DEHP and BBzP exposure. Although anticipatory guidance is not evidence-based at this time, providers can counsel concerned patients to reduce phthalate exposures in order to protect the developing fetus and child from potential adverse health outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Asthma / chemically induced
  • Developmental Disabilities / chemically induced
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity
  • Female
  • Fetal Development / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity / etiology*
  • Phthalic Acids / toxicity*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Phthalic Acids