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Endocrine-Disrupting Chemical Exposure in Teens Associated With ADHD-Like Behaviors

September 21, 2020

Exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, found in a variety of consumer products, during adolescence may be associated with behaviors characteristic of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to a study published online in JAMA Network Open.

“Although epidemiologic studies have reported associations between prenatal and early childhood exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals and ADHD-like behaviors, few studies have examined the association of exposure to these chemicals during adolescence with ADHD-like behaviors,” researchers wrote.

“Similar to the prenatal period, adolescence is a critical time for brain development, characterized by structural and functional changes in the brain as well as the onset of behavioral problems, some of which may be due to hormonal changes. As such, exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals during adolescence may be particularly detrimental.”

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To gauge the association between adolescent exposure to specific endocrine-disrupting chemicals with ADHD-related behaviors, researchers analyzed urine samples for concentrations of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or their metabolites, in 205 adolescents. Self-, parent-, and teacher-completed behavioral checklists provided information on ADHD-related behaviors for each participant.

Among participants, the average age was 15.3, 55% were girls, 40% had scores consistent with a significant behavioral problem, and 19% had an ADHD diagnosis.

Associations with ADHD-like behaviors were strongest, researchers found, for phthalates with antiandrogenic activity. Each 2-fold increase in the sum of antiandrogenic phthalate concentrations was linked with a 1.34 increase in the risk of significant behavior problems related to ADHD. Moreover, each 2-fold increase in the sum of dichlorophenols was linked with a 1.15 increased risk.

Although comparisons of sex-specific differences were imprecise, associations tended to be stronger in boys, according to the study.

“The identification of modifiable risk factors for ADHD is of great public health importance,” researchers wrote. “These findings contribute new insights into the potential detrimental neurobehavioral outcomes of endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure during adolescence.”

—Jolynn Tumolo


Shoaff JR, Coull B, Weuve J, et al. Association of exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals during adolescence with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder-related behaviors. JAMA Network Open. 2020;3(8):e2015041.

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