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Your Environment. Your Health.

Early-life Phthalates Linked to Motor Skill Deficiencies

Robin Whyatt, Dr.P.H.
Columbia University
R01ES013543, R01ES014393, R01ES08977, P30ES009089

An NIEHS study linked phthalate exposure early in life to motor skill problems among 11-year old children, with differences between boys and girls. Phthalates are widely used as plasticizers and are present in a wide variety of personal care products, plastic containers, and children’s toys.

In a study of 209 New York City mothers and their children, researchers measured metabolites of six phthalates in urine from women late in their pregnancy and from their children at ages 3, 5, and 7 years. At age 11 years, they administered a motor proficiency screening test to the children to assess motor skills.

They found that higher exposure to phthalates before birth was associated with lower motor function among 11-year-old girls, whereas higher exposure during childhood was associated with lower scores among boys. Almost one-third of the children in the study had below average motor skills.

The findings suggest that phthalate exposure during certain periods may lead to long-lasting adverse effects of motor function in children, with different susceptibility windows before or after birth, depending on sex. According to the authors, the study emphasizes the need to reduce early-life exposure to phthalates because children use motor skills to navigate their physical and social environments.

Citation: Balalian AA, Whyatt RM, Liu X, Insel BJ, Rauh VA, Herbstman J, Factor-Litvak P. 2019. Prenatal and childhood exposure to phthalates and motor skills at age 11 years. Environ Res 171:416–427.

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