Summary: A new study links exposure to phthalates during pregnancy and an increased risk of motor skill deficits in 11 year old children.
Source: Columbia University.
Scientists with the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health report motor skills problems in children exposed during pregnancy to plasticizer chemicals known as phthalates that are widely used in personal care products like moisturizers and lipstick, as well as plastic containers and children’s toys.
Results of the study of 209 New York City children are published in the journal Environmental Research.
The researchers measured levels of phthalates and their metabolites in urine collected from women during late pregnancy and from their children at ages 3, 5, and 7 years. The Bruininks-Oseretsky Test of Motor Proficiency short form (BOT-2), a screening test for motor problems, was administered at age 11 to assess motor skills.
The findings suggest that maternal exposure to phthalates in late pregnancy could have long-lasting adverse effects on motor function in children in later childhood, particularly in girls. There was also evidence that childhood exposure to phthalates may have more harmful effects on motor function in boys.
“Almost one-third of the children in our study had below or well-below average motor skills,” says senior author Pam Factor-Litvak, PhD, professor of Epidemiology at the Columbia Mailman School. “Children with even subtle motor problems often have difficulty participating in daily activities of childhood, particularly sports. Children with motor problems may also experience low self-worth and self-esteem, high rates of anxiety and depression, as well as behavioral disorders, such as ADHD.”
Phthalate exposures likely occurred when expecting mothers and their children unknowingly ingested small amounts of products like lipstick or plastic food containers or packaging. They may also have absorbed these chemicals through their skin.
“This study adds to the substantial body of evidence on the health risks of phthalates for children, which also includes elevated risk for asthma and cognitive issues,” says Julie Herbstman, PhD, associate professor of Environmental Health Sciences and director of CCCEH. “To the extent possible, expecting mothers should minimize their exposures to products like lipstick and moisturizers that contain these chemicals by paying attention to product labels. In addition, policymakers and manufacturers should consider steps to limit or eliminate the use of these chemicals. No chemicals should be this widely available until they are proven to be safe.”
Source: Columbia University
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Original Research: Abstract for “Prenatal and childhood exposure to phthalates and motor skills at age 11 years” by Arin A. Balalian, Robin M. Whyatt, Xinhua Liu, Beverly J. Insel, Virginia A. Rauh, Julie Herbstman, and Pam Factor-Litvak in Redox Biology. Published January 29 2019.
Prenatal and childhood exposure to phthalates and motor skills at age 11 years
Previous reports suggest that prenatal phthalate exposure is associated with lower scores on measures of motor skills in infants and toddlers. Whether these associations persist into later childhood or preadolescence has not been studied.
In a follow up study of 209 inner-city mothers and their children the concentrations of mono-n-butyl phthalate (MnBP), monobenzyl phthalate (MBzP), monoisobutyl phthalate (MiBP), monomethyl phthalate (MEP), mono-carboxy-isooctyl phthalate (MCOP), and four di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate metabolites (ΣDEHP) were measured in spot urine sample collected from the women in late pregnancy and from their children at ages 3, 5, and 7 years. The Bruininks-Oseretsky Test of Motor Proficiency short form (BOT-2) was administered at child age 11 to assess gross and fine motor skills.
The total number of children included in the study was 209. Of the 209 children, 116(55.5%) were girls and 93 were (45%) boys. Among girls, prenatal MnBP(b=−2.09; 95%CI: [−3.43, −0.75]), MBzP (b=−1.14; [95%CI: −2.13, −0.14]), and MiBP(b=−1.36; 95%CI: [−2.51, −0.21] and MEP(b=−1.23 [95%CI: −2.36, −0.11]) were associated with lower total BOT-2 composite score. MnBP (b= –1.43; 95% CI: [–2.44, –0.42]) was associated with lower fine motor scores and MiBP(b = –0.56; 95% CI: [–1.12, –0.01]) and MEP (b = –0.60; 95% CI: [–1.14, −0.06])was associated with lower gross motor scores. Among boys, prenatal MBzP (b = –0.79; 95% CI: [–1.40, −0.19]) was associated with lower fine motor composite score.
The associations between MEP measured at age 3 and the BOT-2 gross motor, fine motor and total motor score differed by sex. In boys, there was an inverse association between ΣDEHP metabolites measured in childhood at ages 3 (b = –1.30; 95% CI: [–2.34, −0.26]) and 7 years (b = –0.96; 95% CI: [–1.79, −0.13]), and BOT-2 fine motor composite scores.
Higher prenatal exposure to specific phthalates was associated with lower motor function among 11- year old girls while higher postnatal exposure to ΣDEHP metabolites was associated with lower scores among boys. As lower scores on measures of motor development have been associated with more problems in cognitive, socioemotional functioning and behavior, the findings of this study have implications related to overall child development.