Obesity is a growing problem in the U.S.: The percentage of obese children ages six to 11 in this country has grown from seven percent in 1980 to more than 40 percent in 2008, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 15 percent of American children between the ages six and 19 are characterized as obese.

Researchers from the Children’s Environmental Health Center at The Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York have found an association between exposure to the chemical group known as phthalates and obesity in young children – including increased body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference, according to a press release.

“Phthalates are man-made, endocrine-disrupting chemicals that can mimic the body’s natural hormones,” the press release noted. “They are commonly used in plastic flooring and wall coverings, food processing materials, medical devices and personal-care products including lotions.

“While poor nutrition and physical inactivity are known to contribute to obesity, a growing body of research suggests that environmental chemicals–including phthalates–could play a role in rising childhood obesity rates,” the press release noted.

The researchers measured phthalate concentrations in the urine of 387 children in New York City, and recorded body measurements including BMI, height, and waist circumference one year later.

For example, BMI in overweight girls with the highest exposure to a phthalate called monoethyl phthalate was 10 percent higher than those with the lowest monoethyl phthalate exposure.

This study was the first to examine the relationship between phthalate exposure and measurements used to identify obesity in children, according to the press release.

The paper is available online in the journal Environmental Research, published by Elsevier.

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