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Environ Health. 2008 Jun 3;7:27. doi: 10.1186/1476-069X-7-27.

Association of urinary phthalate metabolite concentrations with body mass index and waist circumference: a cross-sectional study of NHANES data, 1999-2002.

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Department of Epidemiology, Boston University School of Public Health, 715 Albany St,, Boston, MA 02118, USA.



Although diet and activity are key factors in the obesity epidemic, laboratory studies suggest that endocrine disrupting chemicals may also affect obesity.


We analyzed associations between six phthalate metabolites measured in urine and body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference (WC) in National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) participants aged 6-80. We included 4369 participants from NHANES 1999-2002, with data on mono-ethyl (MEP), mono-2-ethylhexyl (MEHP), mono-n-butyl (MBP), and mono-benzyl (MBzP) phthalate; 2286 also had data on mono-2-ethyl-5-hydroxyhexyl (MEHHP) and mono-2-ethyl-5-oxohexyl (MEOHP) phthalate (2001-2002). Using multiple regression, we computed mean BMI and WC within phthalate quartiles in eight age/gender specific models.


The most consistent associations were in males aged 20-59; BMI and WC increased across quartiles of MBzP (adjusted mean BMI = 26.7, 27.2, 28.4, 29.0, p-trend = 0.0002), and positive associations were also found for MEOHP, MEHHP, MEP, and MBP. In females, BMI and WC increased with MEP quartile in adolescent girls (adjusted mean BMI = 22.9, 23.8, 24.1, 24.7, p-trend = 0.03), and a similar but less strong pattern was seen in 20-59 year olds. In contrast, MEHP was inversely related to BMI in adolescent girls (adjusted mean BMI = 25.4, 23.8, 23.4, 22.9, p-trend = 0.02) and females aged 20-59 (adjusted mean BMI = 29.9, 29.9, 27.9, 27.6, p-trend = 0.02). There were no important associations among children, but several inverse associations among 60-80 year olds.


This exploratory, cross-sectional analysis revealed a number of interesting associations with different phthalate metabolites and obesity outcomes, including notable differences by gender and age subgroups. Effects of endocrine disruptors, such as phthalates, may depend upon endogenous hormone levels, which vary dramatically by age and gender. Individual phthalates also have different biologic and hormonal effects. Although our study has limitations, both of these factors could explain some of the variation in the observed associations. These preliminary data support the need for prospective studies in populations at risk for obesity.

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