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Exposure to Chemicals from Plastics and Cosmetics Linked to Preterm Births

Update Date: Nov 19, 2013 07:54 AM EST
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Preterm births can be extremely dangerous for the newborn and the mother. In a recent report, researchers found that boys were at a greater risk than girls to be born premature. In a new report, researchers tied exposure to chemicals found in plastics and cosmetics to an increased risk of preterm births.

"Preterm birth is a real public health problem," the lead investigator of the study, John Meeker said according to Reuters Health. "We're not really sure how to go about preventing it, but this may shed light on environmental factors that people may want to be educated in."

Meeker, who is from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and researchers focused on the chemicals known as phthalates. They analyzed previous data on pregnant women. The data had included urine samples and the levels of phthalates present in the samples. When the researchers compared the levels of chemicals, they found that women who gave birth preterm, which was before week 37, had higher levels of phthalates than women who gave birth at full term, which would be at week 39. The team stated that the increased risk ranged from 16 to 65 percent.

"We knew that exposure to phthalates was virtually ubiquitous here in the U.S. and possibly worldwide and preterm births increased for unknown reasons over the past several decades," Meeker said.

The medical data came from a study that was conducted between 2006 and 2008 at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA. The study included 130 women who had preterm babies and 352 women who gave birth full term. The women were asked to answer survey questions and provide several urine samples throughout their pregnancy.

Despite this finding, phthalates are hard to avoid. These chemicals are used in several products, such as shower curtains and food package. The chemicals help make products soft and flexible.

"There are a lot of indications or warnings that signal that women avoid phthalates when they can. I say 'when they can' because it's difficult," commented Shanna Swan, a professor from the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. "Most of the exposures are silent and we are not aware of them. We don't know how to avoid them."

The study was published in JAMA Pediatrics.

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