Early-Life Phthalate Exposure and Adiposity at 8 Years of Age

Environ Health Perspect. 2017 Sep 11;125(9):097008. doi: 10.1289/EHP1022.


Background: Early-life phthalate exposure may influence child adiposity, but prior studies have not determined if there are periods of enhanced vulnerability to phthalates.

Objective: To examine the relationship between child adiposity at 8 y of age and repeated urinary biomarkers of phthalate exposure from gestation through childhood to determine if there are distinct periods of vulnerability.

Methods: In 219 mother-child pairs from Cincinnati, Ohio, we quantified nine urinary phthalate metabolites up to two times prenatally and six times from 1-8 y of age. We measured child body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, and percent body fat at 8 y of age. To identify periods of vulnerability, we used two statistical methods to estimate phthalate-adiposity associations at each visit, test differences in phthalate-adiposity associations across visits, and model trajectories of phthalate concentrations for children at different levels of adiposity.

Results: Prenatal phthalate concentrations were not associated with excess child adiposity. Monobenzyl phthalate (MBzP) concentrations during pregnancy and childhood were inversely associated with adiposity. The associations of di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (∑DEHP) metabolites and monoethyl phthalate (MEP) with child adiposity depended on the timing of exposure. A 10-fold increase in ∑DEHP at 1 and 5 y was associated with a 2.7% decrease [95% confidence interval (CI): -4.8, -0.5] and 2.9% increase (95% CI: 0.3, 5.5) in body fat, respectively. MEP concentrations at 5 and 8 y of age were associated with higher child adiposity, but earlier childhood concentrations were not.

Conclusion: In this cohort, we did not find evidence of an obesogenic effect of prenatal phthalate exposure. Positive associations between postnatal MEP and ∑DEHP concentrations depended on the timing of exposure. https://doi.org/10.1289/EHP1022.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adiposity
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Environmental Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Environmental Pollutants / urine*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Ohio / epidemiology
  • Pediatric Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Phthalic Acids / urine*


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Phthalic Acids
  • phthalic acid