Parabens and measures of adiposity among adults and children from the U.S. general population: NHANES 2007-2014

Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2018 May;221(4):652-660. doi: 10.1016/j.ijheh.2018.03.006. Epub 2018 Mar 15.


Background: Emerging experimental studies suggest that parabens could affect metabolism by altering the microbiome or signaling pathways involved in adipocyte differentiation. While human exposure to parabens is widespread, epidemiologic studies assessing the role of these chemicals on adiposity measures are scarce.

Objective: We examined associations of parabens with adiposity measures among adults and children in the U.S. general population.

Methods: We conducted covariate-adjusted linear and logistic regression models to examine associations between urinary biomarker concentrations of four parabens (butyl-BP, ethyl-EP, methyl-MP, and propyl paraben-PP) and measures of adiposity (obesity; body mass index, BMI or BMI z-score; and waist circumference) among 4730 adults (2007-2014) and 1324 children (2007-2012), participating in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. We also assessed heterogeneity of associations by gender.

Results: We generally observed significant inverse associations between adiposity measures and paraben biomarker concentrations among adults (BP, EP, MP, PP) and children (MP). For example, adjusted prevalence odds ratios (95% confidence intervals, CI) for obesity per a ten-fold increase in MP concentrations were 0.64 (95% CI: 0.55, 0.73) for adults and 0.71(95% CI: 0.52, 0.95) for children. Strength of inverse associations typically increased monotonically with increasing paraben exposure quartiles; and, in general, inverse associations were more pronounced among females. Associations remained when controlling for other phenolic compounds previously linked with adiposity measures.

Conclusions: In this cross-sectional study of adiposity measures and parabens, we observed consistent inverse associations in a representative sample of U.S adults and children. Further studies are warranted to confirm our findings, examine the potential role of paraben sequestration in adipose tissue, and elucidate mechanisms by which parabens could alter metabolism.

Keywords: Adiposity; Adults; Body mass index; Children; Obesity; Parabens.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adiposity*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Biomarkers / urine
  • Child
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Environmental Pollutants / urine*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Parabens / metabolism*
  • United States
  • Young Adult


  • Biomarkers
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Parabens