MMC receives $2.2M to study impact of household chemicals on teen obesity, bone density

April 08, 2019
PORTLAND, Maine – Maine Medical Center (MMC) has received $2.2 million from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to study whether certain chemicals that are commonly found in household items may be contributing to obesity in teenagers, and potentially making those teens more susceptible to osteoporosis later in life.

The study looks at the impact of perfluroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and phthalates on about 500 teenagers who have been enrolled since birth in Project Viva, a longitudinal research study of mothers and children in Eastern Massachusetts. PFAS are synthetic chemicals added to clothing, furniture and carpets to make the items non-stick and stain repellant. Phthalates are added to personal care products such as shampoos and lotions to retain scents. They’re also used to improve flexibility in plastics. Studies in animals suggest that these classes of chemicals may disrupt common biological pathways to increase the risk of both high body fat and low bone mineral density.

“Adolescence is an important time when our bodies build up both bone and fat,” said principal investigator Abby Fleisch, M.D., M.P.H., a pediatric endocrinologist at MMC, faculty scientist at the Maine Medical Center Research Institute and assistant professor at Tufts University School of Medicine. “Few human studies have looked at how these chemicals in our environment could be impacting our fat accumulation and the health of our bones.”

The study will test for PFAS in samples of the teens’ blood and for phthalates in their urine. Researchers also will measure body fat and bone density using a special kind of X-ray machine. Each child filled out food questionnaires that will help the research team investigate how much of the PFAS and phthalate exposure has come from diet and how much has come from the environment.

The study is being funded as part of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ Outstanding New Environmental Scientist (ONES) program. The ONES program was formed to cultivate future leaders in environmental health and support innovative research projects. The hope is that this research could lead to ways to curb obesity and osteoporosis later in life.

Research conducted as part of this grant is supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R01ES030101. The content is
solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

About Maine Medical Center
Maine Medical Center (MMC), recognized as a Best Regional Hospital by U.S. News and World Report for 2018-2019, is a complete health care resource for the people of Greater Portland and the entire state, as well as northern New England. Incorporated in 1868, MMC is the state’s largest medical center, licensed for 637 beds and employing nearly 8,700 people. MMC's unique role as both a community hospital and a referral center requires an unparalleled depth and breadth of services, including an active educational program and a world-class biomedical research center. As a nonprofit institution, Maine Medical Center provides nearly 23 percent of all the charity care delivered in Maine. MMC is part of the MaineHealth system, a growing family of health care services in northern New England. For more information, visit