Associations between prenatal phthalate exposure and sex-typed play behavior in preschool age boys and girls

Sarah Felice Evans, Samantha Raymond, Swathi Sethuram, Emily S. Barrett, Nicole R. Bush, Ruby Nguyen, Sheela Sathyanarayana, Shanna H. Swan

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Phthalates, a class of chemicals found widely in consumer products including plastic toys, food contaminants and food packaging, personal care products, cosmetics, air fresheners, and some medications, have been shown to be anti-androgenic in numerous laboratory and epidemiological studies. In a prior cohort enrolled in 2000–2002, we observed associations between prenatal urinary concentrations of di-ethyl hexyl phthalate (DEHP) and dibutyl phthalate (DBP) metabolites and less male-typed play behavior in preschool age boys. The aim of this study was to examine phthalate exposure in pregnancy in relation to play behavior at age 4 years in a larger cohort of pregnant women enrolled in The Infant Development and the Environment Study (TIDES) between 2010 and 2012 at four study sites (Minneapolis, MN; Rochester, NY; San Francisco, CA; Seattle, WA). Maternal urinary metabolites of DEHP, DiBP, DnBP, BBzP, and DEP were measured during the first (n=498) and third trimester (n=468) and mothers completed the Preschool Activities Inventory (PSAI), a validated maternal questionnaire designed to assess child toy preference and sex-typed play behavior when children were 4–5 years of age. After adjusting for child age, maternal education, race, urine dilution, parental attitudes about opposite sex-typed play behavior, and presence of a same sex older sibling, we observed associations between first trimester (mean 10.7±2.1 weeks gestation) (log10) SpG-adjusted MnBP, MiBP, and MBzP and lower masculine scores in boys (β-coefficient [95% confidence intervals]: MnBP −2.18, [-4.16, −0.20]), MiBP −2.1[-4.3,0.1], and MBzP -2.42 [-4.12, −0.71]). In girls, first trimester maternal urinary MBzP was associated with lower masculine scores (-2.12 [-3.98,-0.25]), while third trimester (mean 32.8±3.0 weeks gestation) maternal urinary MiBP was associated with higher masculine scores (2.69 [0.68,4.70]). Third trimester maternal urinary phthalate levels were not associated with play behavior in boys. These findings in boys are largely consistent with previous studies that report that prenatal phthalate exposure is associated with less masculine play behavior. No associations in girls have been previously reported.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number110264
JournalEnvironmental research
StatePublished - Jan 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry
  • Environmental Science(all)


  • Endocrine disruption
  • Phthalate
  • Play behavior
  • Prenatal exposure
  • Sex-dimorphic

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