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New blood pressure risk for kids that is everywhere

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Chemical in plastics linked to kids' heart risks

New research suggests chemicals found in plastics and processed foods known as phthalates could pose high blood pressure risk to children and teens. The plastics are pervasive in the environment and even found in food packaging and storage containers where they leech into what your child eats. What can you do to protect your children?

Plastics are also found in flooring, beach balls, shower curtains and plastic cups. Most significantly, they are in our body.

Evidence has been mounting that phthalates disturb the endocrine and metabolic pathways in the body in negative ways that can impact long-term health.

A new study, published in The Journal of Pediatrics, adds to the health risks of phthalates that are already known to disrupt hormones and lead to metabolic abnormalities.

For the first time research has shown a link between exposure to DEHP (di-2-ethyhexylphthalate) that is widely used in food packaging and high blood pressure in children.

The plastic that is used in food production can harm the heart cells and health of the arteries.

Lead author Leonardo Trasande, MD, MPP, NYU Langone Medical Center, said in a press release, “We wanted to examine the link between phthalates and childhood blood pressure in particular given the increase in elevated blood pressure in children and the increasing evidence implicating exposure to environmental exposures in early development of disease.”

Until now no one has explored the link between a common and widely used type phthalate, DEHP (di-2-ethyhexylphthalate) that is utilized in mass food production.

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For the study, the researchers correlated systolic blood pressure - the top number that reflects the amount of pressure placed against the arteries when the heart contracts – with DEHP in the urine of children who were part of a survey of the U.S. population conducted by the National Centers for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The results showed for every three-fold increase in DEHP breakdown in the urine, blood pressure was 1mm higher; after controlling for other possible causes.

“That increment may seem very modest at an individual level, but on a population level such shifts in blood pressure can increase the number of children with elevated blood pressure substantially,” says Dr. Trasande.

He suggests policies should be instituted to minimize children’s exposure to plastics, in addition to other dietary and behavioral interventions that can protect heart health.

Examples include maintaining normal weight, getting plenty of activity and making heart healthy food choices that include plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Some studies suggest environmental exposure to plastics may contribute to childhood obesity, setting the stage for a future of poor cardiovascular health and other chronic diseases.

What should parents do?

  • Cook freshly prepared food whenever possible
  • Look for plastics with recycling codes 1, 2, or 5 that are phthalate free
  • Never heat your food in plastic. Try to avoid it altogether
  • Use glass, bamboo bowls or other to store food.
  • Avoid fatty foods. They are better for children’s health and have less of the chemical that is attracted to fat.
  • Consider doing your best to go phthalate free – pay attention to the shower curtains you buy. Throw away old toys, like that rubber ducky. Newer plastic toys are now phthalate free.
  • Use fragrance free laundry detergents
  • Try to get rid of vinyl in the home altogether

The new study adds to a growing body of evidence that we need to get rid of phthalates in the environment. The current study highlights potential high blood pressure risk from exposure to plastics among adolescents and teens that was previously unknown.

Journal of Pediatrics
May, 2013

Image credit: Pixabay