Thirty-three percent of adults and 17 percent of children struggle with obesity in the United States, according to the most recent research from the Center for Disease Control (CDC). While a healthy diet and exercise have long been seen as the solution to this problem, some researchers feel that there is more to the equation. Studies are finding that exposure to certain chemicals referred to as “obesogens” can change the body’s metabolism by disrupting fat and weight-regulatory mechanisms.
Although research in this area is still developing, there is growing evidence that the chemicals most people come into contact with everyday can cause this disruption. They include bisphenol A (BPA), used in plastics and found in thousands of products including toys and food packaging; triflumizole (TFZ), a fungicide used widely on food crops; perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a grease-proofing chemical used in food storage containers such as pizza boxes and popcorn bags, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which are by-products of burning coal, oil, gas, tobacco, and garbage.
In 2006, Bruce Blumberg at the University of California at Irvine, coined the term “obesogen” after performing an experiment on the effects of tibutylin (TBT), a fungicide used in marine paints and plastics production, with weight gain in mice. He found the offspring of mice that were exposed to the chemical while pregnant grew to be 5 to 20 percent fatter by adulthood than offspring of mice not exposed to the chemical.
Since then, other studies have showed similar findings. A study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that children under 18 who had higher levels of BPA in their urine were more likely to be overweight that those with lower levels.
There has been a more recent focus on studying the effects of air pollution (PAHs) in particular. Many studies have shown that individuals exposed to a higher amount of air pollution are more likely to have increased insulin resistance which can lead to type 2 diabetes and weight gain.
Research from the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health shows the correlation between exposure to PAHs and increased weight gain, especially in children. Women in New York City wore air pollution monitors for the duration of their pregnancies, and results showed that children were more than twice as likely to be obese by the age of 7 if their mothers were exposed to higher levels of PAHs.