SATURDAY, June 23 (HealthDay News) -- It's hard to imagine a pacifier or a rubber ducky making your child fat.
But new research suggests that chemicals called phthalates, which are found in the plastics that pacifiers and toys are typically made of, may be linked to higher rates of obesity in children.
The chemical, called di-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), is suspected of being able to alter biological functions involved in fat metabolism. In the study, children with the highest DEHP levels had nearly five times the chance of being obese compared with those who had the lowest DEHP levels.
How could a chemical used to soften plastics trigger fat development in a child?
"It may trigger the master regulator of fat creation and lipid metabolism," explained study co-author Dr. Mi-Jung Park, a pediatric endocrinologist and professor at Inje University College of Medicine, in Seoul, South Korea.
DEHP may do two different things that increase fat development, Park said. It may reduce the effect of androgen -- a male sex hormone -- which lowers body-mass index (BMI). It may also disrupt thyroid function, which plays a role in weight gain. Interfering with androgen or thyroid hormones can affect appetite or a person's rate of metabolizing food, she explained.
Other studies have linked phthalates to breast growth in boys, reproductive problems in men and low birth weight.
The researchers measured blood levels of DEHP in 204 children ranging from 6 to 13 years old; 105 were considered obese and 99 were of normal weight.
Children with a higher BMI, a measurement of body fat, had higher DEHP levels. The increased risk of obesity with elevated DEHP levels was not related to the amount of physical activity they got or their daily calorie intake.
The study, scheduled for presentation Saturday at the Endocrine Society's annual meeting in Houston, di
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