Study Suggests Plastics on Food Could Be Linked to Increased Premature Births

by Ella

Recent research has pointed to a potential connection between the prevalence of premature births and exposure to synthetic chemicals commonly found in food packaging and personal care products, a new study reveals.

The study, published in the Lancet Planetary Health journal, suggests that phthalates, a group of synthetic chemicals ubiquitous in various consumer products, including clear food packaging and personal care items, may be contributing to the rise in premature births. Phthalates, often referred to as “everywhere chemicals,” are known hormone disruptors that can interfere with the functioning of the placenta, which plays a crucial role in supplying oxygen and nutrients to a developing fetus.


Dr. Leonardo Trasande, the lead author of the study and director of environmental pediatrics at NYU Langone Health, highlighted the potential impact of phthalates on placental function, stating, “Phthalates can also contribute to inflammation that can disrupt the placenta even more and set the steps of preterm labor in motion.”


The study found a significant association between the presence of certain phthalates, particularly Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), and an increased risk of premature births. Trasande indicated that DEHP and three similar chemicals may have been responsible for 5% to 10% of all preterm births in the United States in 2018, amounting to nearly 57,000 premature births with an estimated societal cost of nearly $4 billion.


While the research focused on individual phthalate exposure, experts caution that people are often exposed to multiple phthalates simultaneously through various products, potentially amplifying the risk of adverse health effects.


Phthalates are commonly used in food packaging, including plastic wraps for meat and liners for milk and juice containers, among other applications. Despite concerns raised by the study, the American Chemistry Council, representing US chemical companies, emphasized that not all phthalates are the same and cautioned against grouping them together as a single class of chemicals.

The pervasive use of phthalates extends beyond food packaging to a wide range of consumer products, including children’s toys, vinyl flooring, personal care items, and more. Studies have linked phthalate exposure to various health issues, including childhood obesity, asthma, cardiovascular problems, cancer, and reproductive disorders.

Dr. Linda Birnbaum, a toxicologist and former director of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, echoed concerns about the potential risks posed by phthalates, advocating for stricter regulations on these chemicals.

Moreover, the study revealed that certain phthalate replacements, such as di-isodecylphthalate (DiDP), di-n-octyl phthalate (DnOP), and diisononyl phthalate (DiNP), may pose even greater risks of premature births than DEHP.

Premature births, defined as births occurring before 37 weeks of gestation, can have serious implications for the health and development of infants, including vision, hearing, and cognitive impairments, as well as long-term health issues in adulthood.

In light of these findings, experts recommend minimizing exposure to phthalates by using alternative materials for food storage, avoiding microwaving food in plastic containers, and checking recycling codes to identify and avoid plastics containing phthalates.



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