Web MD -- According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of obese children ages six to eleven in the United States has grown from 7% percent in 1980 to more than 40% in 2008.
What could be causing such a rapid increase? Researchers from the Children's Environmental Health Center at The Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York say childhood obesity could be linked to chemicals found in cosmetics.
Mount Sinai researchers have found an association between childhood obesity and phthalates, endocrine-disrupting chemicals commonly found in, lotions, nail polish, and perfumes, as well as a wide range of other everyday products made from vinyl.
This first-of-its-kind study measured phthalate concentrations in the urine of 387 children and recorded body measurements including Body Mass Index (BMI), height, and waist circumference one year later. The urine tests revealed that more than 97% of the children were exposed to the type of phthalates commonly used in personal care products. The researchers also found an association between concentrations of these phthalates with BMI and waist circumference among overweight children.
Though the data is significant, the Mount Sinai researchers say that more research will be needed to prove that phthalate exposure causes increased body size.
What exactly are phthalates?
Phthalates are a class of chemicals used as softeners, or plasticizers, in polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl) products, including children's toys, decorating and building products, blood bags, and other medical equipment. Phthalates are also found in solvents, cosmetics, personal care products, wood finishes, and insecticides. Why would manufacturers use phthalates? When added to plastic, they increase its flexibility and durability.
How can you avoid phthalate exposure?
1. Read labels. Look for products that are labeled "Phthalate Free." Phthalates can sneak up on you with different names like diethyl phthalate (DEP), di-n-butyl phthalate (DBP), and benzylbutyl phthalate(BBP).
2. Avoid Fragrance. Fragrance is considered a trade secret so companies don't have to disclose their "secret" ingredients. Many companies use the term "fragrance" in product labeling and you have no way of knowing what is used. Choose pure essential oils instead of perfumes.
4. Avoid vinyl: Throw away any teethers or soft plastic toys made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl) that your child could put in his or her mouth. Choose wooden, cloth, or hard plastic toys and check with manufacturers to make sure their products are free of phthalates. Vinyl is also used in your home; whenever possible, choose non-vinyl flooring and wall coverings.