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Member Research and Reports

Columbia: Prenatal Exposure to Plasticizers Linked to Motor Skill Deficiencies at Age 11

Scientists with the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health report motor skills problems in children exposed during pregnancy to plasticizer chemicals known as phthalates that are widely used in personal care products, plastic containers and children’s toys. Results of the study of 209 New York City children are published in the journal Environmental Research.

The researchers measured levels of phthalates and their metabolites in urine collected from women during late pregnancy and from their children at ages 3, 5, and 7 years. The Bruininks-Oseretsky Test of Motor Proficiency short form (BOT-2) was administered at age 11 to assess motor skills.

The findings suggest that maternal exposure to phthalates in late pregnancy could have long-lasting adverse effects on motor function in children in later childhood, particularly in girls. There was also evidence that childhood exposure to phthalates may have more harmful effects on motor function in boys.

“Almost one-third of the children in our study had below or well-below average motor skills,” says senior author Dr. Pam Factor-Litvak, professor of epidemiology at Columbia Mailman. “Children with even subtle motor problems often have difficulty participating in daily activities of childhood, particularly sports. Children with motor problems may also experience low self-worth and self-esteem, high rates of anxiety and depression, and behavioral disorders, such as ADHD.”

“This study adds to the body of evidence on the health risks of phthalates for children, which also includes elevated risk for asthma and cognitive issues,” says Dr. Julie Herbstman, associate professor of environmental health sciences and director of CCCEH.

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