Phthalates and boys’ play behavior 2009


Fetal exposure to antiandrogens alters androgen-sensitive development in male rodents, resulting in less male-typical behavior. Fetal phthalate exposure is also associated with male reproductive development in humans, but neurodevelopmental outcomes have seldom been examined in relation to phthalate exposure.  To assess play behavior in relation to phthalate metabolite concentration in prenatal urine samples, we recontacted participants in the Study for Future Families whose phthalate metabolites had been measured in mid-pregnancy urine samples.  Mothers completed a questionnaire including the Preschool Activities Inventory (PSAI), a validated instrument used to assess sexually dimorphic play behavior. We examined play behavior scores (masculine, feminine and composite) in relation to (log10) phthalate metabolite concentrations in mother’s urine separately for boys (N=74) and girls (N=71). Covariates (child’s age, mother’s age and education and parental attitude towards atypical play choices) were controlled using multivariate regression models. Concentrations of dibutyl phthalate (DBP) metabolites, mono-n-butyl phthalate (MnBP) and mono-isobutyl phthalate (MiBP), and their sum, were associated with a decreased (less masculine) composite score in boys (regression coefficients -4.53, -3.61, and -4.20, p=0.01, 0.07 and 0.04 for MnBP, MiBP and their sum, respectively).  Concentrations of two urinary metabolites of di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), mono-(2-ethyl-5-oxohexyl) phthalate (MEOHP) and mono (2-ethyl-5-hydroxyhexyl) phthalate (MEHHP) and the sum of these DEHP metabolites plus mono(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate were associated with a decreased masculine score (regression coefficients -3.29, -2.94, and -3.18, p=0.02, 0.04 and 0.04) for MEHHP,  MEOHP, and the sum, respectively. No strong associations were seen between behavior and urinary concentrations of any other phthalate metabolites in boys, or between girls’ scores and any metabolites. These data, though based on a small sample, suggest that prenatal exposure to antiandrogenic phthalates may be associated with less male-typical play behavior in boys.  Our findings suggest that these ubiquitous environmental chemicals have the potential to alter androgen-responsive brain development in humans.


Swan 2009 Prenatal phthalate exposure and reduced masculine play in boys
Title: Swan 2009 Prenatal phthalate exposure and reduced masculine play in boys (0 click)
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2 thoughts on “Phthalates and boys’ play behavior 2009

  1. This study should go a long way to banning the use of phthalates. Even though three varieties have now been banned in some children’s products – including crib mattresses, most of which had the banned phthalates in their PVC/vinyl waterproof covering (although we have never used them in our products) – there are several more under investigation, and still being used. Also, phthalates have not yet been banned in other products with which children have frequent contact – e.g. skin lotions and other personal care products. They are also in laundry and household cleansing products that contain synthetic fragrance. The problem starts in the womb, but it’s far from over once the baby is born. There is a lot of work still to be done. Thank you for helping to bring this issue to the forefront.

  2. Thanks for your interest in our studies. To me a major concern is that current regulations do not address exposure to pregnant women but focus on children’s exposure.

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