Research Links Phthalates To Increased Prematurity Rates


Premature birth rates in America have been steadily rising, causing concern for healthcare professionals and families. A recent study published in The Lancet Planetary Health has found a potential link between phthalates, a group of chemicals commonly used in household products, and increased rates of preterm births. The study examined over 5,000 mothers and measured 20 different metabolites in their urine throughout pregnancy. The results showed that the most commonly used phthalate, DEHP, was significantly associated with preterm birth. Additionally, alternative chemicals used as replacements for DEHP were found to be associated with even higher rates of preterm births. This research highlights the need for comprehensive regulation of phthalates and their alternatives to prioritize public health and safety.

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Background on Premature Birth Rates

Definition of premature birth

Premature birth refers to the delivery of an infant before the completion of 37 weeks of pregnancy. This early delivery can have significant health implications for both the baby and the mother. Premature babies, also known as preterm babies, may face challenges such as respiratory distress syndrome, developmental delays, and long-term health complications.

Increasing rates of premature birth

Over the past few decades, there has been a concerning upward trend in premature birth rates in the United States. This increase has raised alarm among healthcare professionals and families alike. While the exact reasons for this rise in premature births are not yet fully understood, there is a growing body of research exploring potential contributing factors.

Health complications for babies and mothers

Premature birth can have serious health implications for both the newborn and the mother. For babies, the risk of physical and cognitive developmental delays is significantly higher. Preterm infants may also experience complications such as respiratory distress syndrome, infections, and long-term disabilities. Mothers who give birth prematurely are at an increased risk of postpartum depression, high blood pressure, and other health issues.

Introduction to Phthalates

Explanation of phthalates

Phthalates are a group of chemicals that are widely used in various consumer products. They are commonly added to plastics to enhance flexibility and durability, making them more resistant to breaking or cracking. Phthalates can be found in a wide range of household items, including toys, plastic containers, personal care products, and medical devices.

Common household products containing phthalates

Phthalates can be found in numerous everyday items that people use in their homes. Some common examples include vinyl flooring, shower curtains, food packaging, cleaning products, and cosmetics. These chemicals are often added during the manufacturing process to improve the performance and stability of the products and materials.

Known health issues associated with phthalates

Research has linked phthalate exposure to several health issues in both animals and humans. Studies have shown that certain phthalates can disrupt the endocrine system, which regulates hormones in the body. This disruption can lead to reproductive problems, developmental abnormalities, and an increased risk of certain cancers. Phthalates have also been associated with asthma, allergies, and neurodevelopmental disorders in children.

Study on Phthalates and Preterm Births

Overview of the research study

A recent study published in The Lancet Planetary Health sheds light on the potential link between phthalates and preterm births. The study aimed to investigate the association between specific phthalates and the risk of preterm delivery in a diverse group of mothers.

Sample size and measurement methods

The study included over 5,000 mothers and measured 20 different metabolites in their urine at various stages of pregnancy. This comprehensive approach allowed researchers to assess the presence and levels of multiple phthalates. By analyzing a large sample size, the study aimed to provide more robust and generalizable results.

Inclusion of diverse group of mothers

One notable strength of this study is its inclusion of a diverse group of mothers. By including women from different ethnic backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses, and geographic locations, the researchers aimed to capture a more realistic representation of the population. This diversity enhances the generalizability of the findings.

Association between DEHP and preterm birth

The results of the study revealed a significant association between one specific phthalate, DEHP (di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate), and an increased risk of preterm birth. Mothers with high levels of DEHP in their urine were approximately 50% more likely to experience premature delivery compared to those with lower levels. This finding adds to the growing body of evidence linking phthalate exposure to adverse birth outcomes.

Concerns Over Alternative Chemicals

Higher rates of preterm birth with alternative chemicals

Interestingly, the study also found that alternative chemicals used to replace DEHP were associated with even higher rates of preterm birth. These findings suggest that the increase in premature births seen in recent years may be connected to the use of these replacements. It is crucial to evaluate the safety and potential health effects of alternative chemicals before widespread adoption in consumer products.

Use of replacements in food packaging

One area where these replacements are commonly used is in food packaging. Phthalates can migrate from packaging materials into the food we consume, potentially leading to exposure and associated health risks. The study highlights the need for careful consideration of the chemicals used in food packaging to ensure the safety of both the consumers and the products.

Avoidance of safer alternatives due to cost

A significant concern raised by the study is the avoidance of safer alternatives to phthalates due to higher production costs. Companies may opt for slight modifications to chemical compounds to circumvent regulations targeting problematic substances, rather than investing in truly safer alternatives. This prioritization of cost over public health is a key consideration when it comes to regulating chemicals and protecting consumers.

Call for Comprehensive Regulation

Recommendation to regulate phthalates as a class

Based on the findings of this study and the existing body of research, the lead author of the study, Leonardo Trasande, calls for the regulation of phthalates as a class. Instead of addressing these chemicals individually, comprehensive regulation focusing on the entire group would be more effective in safeguarding public health. This approach would ensure that all potentially harmful phthalates are addressed, rather than targeting them one by one.

Importance of comprehensive regulation

Comprehensive regulation is crucial to protect the health and well-being of both mothers and babies. By regulating phthalates as a class, authorities can set clear guidelines and limits on their use in consumer products, reducing exposure and minimizing the associated risks. This approach promotes transparency, accountability, and consistency in protecting public health.

Potential future risks with new chemical introductions

The study’s findings also serve as a reminder of the importance of vigilance and ongoing research in the field of chemical safety. As new chemicals are introduced as replacements for phthalates, it is essential to thoroughly assess their safety and potential health effects before widespread use. Regulations should be adaptable and proactive to respond to emerging evidence and ensure the continuous protection of public health.

Examples of Similar Controversies

Previous controversy over BPA and BPS

The study highlights a previous controversy surrounding the use of BPA (Bisphenol A) and its replacement, BPS (Bisphenol S). Companies swapped out BPA with BPS in an attempt to create the perception of being BPA-free. However, consumers were unaware of the potential risks associated with BPS, as it was not widely known or publicized. This example underscores the need for transparency and consumer awareness when it comes to alternative chemicals.

Consumer unawareness of alternative chemicals

Many consumers are unaware of the presence of phthalates and their potential health risks. This lack of knowledge can leave individuals vulnerable to exposure without taking necessary precautions. It is crucial for consumers to be well-informed about the chemicals present in the products they use daily, allowing them to make informed choices and protect their health.

Importance of being informed about potential risks

The example of BPA and BPS serves as a reminder of the importance of being informed and proactive in understanding potential risks associated with chemicals. By staying educated and aware of emerging research and regulations, individuals can make informed decisions about the products they purchase and use in their daily lives. Being informed empowers consumers to prioritize their health and the well-being of their families.

Importance of Public Health and Safety

Prioritizing public health over cost considerations

This study emphasizes the need to prioritize public health and safety over cost considerations when addressing chemical regulations. While cost-effectiveness is an important factor for companies, it should not take precedence over protecting consumers from potential harms. Regulators, companies, and individuals all have a role to play in ensuring that public health remains at the forefront of decision-making processes.

Responsibilities of regulators and companies

The study highlights the shared responsibilities of regulators and companies in safeguarding public health. Regulators must develop and enforce comprehensive regulations that address the potential risks associated with phthalates and their alternatives. Companies, on the other hand, should prioritize the safety and well-being of their consumers by using safer alternatives and transparently disclosing information about the chemicals used in their products.

Protecting the well-being of consumers

Ultimately, the well-being of consumers should be the primary concern in decisions related to chemical safety. The findings of this study highlight the importance of ongoing research, transparency, and comprehensive regulation to protect individuals from potential health risks. By working together, regulators, companies, and consumers can ensure that public health remains a top priority.

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Source of the Research Study

The original study published in The Lancet Planetary Health can be accessed and read through this link. The study provides detailed information on the methods, findings, and conclusions regarding the association between phthalates and preterm births.


The study on the association between phthalates and preterm births highlights the importance of addressing this issue from a public health standpoint. As prematurity rates continue to rise, it is essential to understand the potential contributing factors and take proactive measures to protect the health and well-being of both mothers and babies.

Phthalates, commonly found in household products, have been linked to various health issues, including preterm births. The study’s findings emphasize the need for comprehensive regulation of phthalates as a class, rather than addressing them individually. Moreover, the study raises concerns about the potential risks associated with alternative chemicals used to replace phthalates, particularly in food packaging.

Consumer awareness, along with regulatory action, plays a crucial role in ensuring public health and safety. By prioritizing public health over cost considerations, regulators and companies can work together to minimize exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. Ultimately, protecting the well-being of consumers should be the primary focus, and continued research and regulation are crucial in achieving this goal.

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