Friday, May 22, 2009

Chemicals Increasingly Linked to Obesity

Obesity has become a national epidemic and it is increasingly creeping into the youngest of our population. In fact, an alarming new study reports that 1 in 5 American 4-year-olds is obese, up 300% since the 1980s, and many more are considered seriously overweight. This epidemic has compelled many to predict that our children will be the first generation to have a shorter lifespan than their parents. What's going on?

Popular opinion says that poor nutrition and lack of exercise is the root of this problem. But, while lifestyle choices clearly play a major role in personal health, studies are increasingly showing something far more insidious - everyday exposures to common chemicals may be increasing our waistlines.

One of the most recent studies found that overweight young girls had significantly higher levels of phthalates in their bodies compared to the general population of children. Phthalates, a type of hormone disruptor, are used in plastics (most often PVC) and in personal care products.

According to Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, a professor of pediatrics at Mount Sinai, and one of the lead researchers on the study, the results are preliminary and do not prove that phthalates cause obesity, simply that they seem to be linked. "Right now it's a correlation; we don't know if it's cause and effect or an accidental finding," Dr. Landrigan said. "The $64,000 question is, what is causal pathway? Does it go through the thyroid gland? Does it change fat metabolism?"

Even if we don't know exactly how phthalates and obesity are linked, we do know phthalates are not the only potential offender. A small, but growing body of evidence in both animals and humans are finding a variety of hormone disruptors linked to obesity, including tributyltin, hexachlorobenzene (HCB), organotins, BPA , and PFOA.

Reduce your exposure by following these simple tips:

Over 90% of all phthalates are used in PVC plastics, so avoid purchasing PVC products and packaging. (Check out PVC: The Poison Plastic for more info). Phthalates are also used in personal care products, so read labels and use to find the safest products.

HCB has been banned, but still contaminates soil and water, which results in the contamination of our food. The US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) recommends eating low fat meat and dairy to reduce your exposure to HCB.

Tributyltin and organotin are in the same family of chemicals. The US ATSDR recommends these tips for reducing exposure to these compounds:
  • Reduce the amount of canned products you eat or drink and store unused portions in separate containers.

  • Reduce your consumption of seafood from waters that may be contaminated with organic tin compounds and your contact with household products that contain organotin compounds (for example, silicon-coated baking parchment paper).

To avoid BPA, eat foods that are fresh, frozen, dried or in glass jars or tetra packs instead of canned (same for beverages). Also, avoid polycarbonate plastic (PC or #7).

Reduce your exposure to PFOA by replacing those easy-to-clean Teflon pans with cast iron, avoiding clothing and carpeting marketed as "stain-resistant," and avoiding greasy, pre-packaged foods (and microwavable popcorn). You should also know that most take-out packaging is coated with Teflon, so try eating in or asking about alternative packaging. Learn more at Environmental Working Group.

by Janelle Sorensen

Janelle Sorensen is the senior writer and health consultant for Healthy Child Healthy World. She is also an independent consultant, public educator and freelance writer who has worked with a wide variety of environmental organizations, government offices, schools, and parent groups across the country. In her spare time, she loves cooking, reading, gardening, biking, hiking, and lavishing her children with squishies and smoochies (i.e. hugs and kisses).

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