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Do Plastics Cause Obesity, Too?

The evidence keeps mounting that chemicals may be playing a role in the obesity epidemic.

The obesity epidemic? Isn't obesity caused by eating too much and not exercising enough? Well, yes. But a growing body of evidence suggests a role for some chemicals, including bisphenol A or BPA . That's the stuff found in all sorts of plastics, including those used to make some baby bottles.

At an international meeting on obesity in Geneva yesterday, scientists from several countries, including the United States, Spain and Switzerland, presented the results of their latest research. The findings, all from studies on mice, showed that animals exposed to several chemicals, including BPA, just before or after birth, had a higher risk for obesity in adolescence or adulthood.

The theory is that these chemicals are "endocrine disruptors" -- meaning they mess with the hormonal system. Scientists suspect that these substances may set the metabolism on a path to obesity. Bruce Blumberg of the University of California at Irvine, has coined a term for these chemicals -- "obesogens."

At the European Congress on Obesity, Blumberg joined researchers from the National Institute of Environmental Health , the Environmental Pretection Agency, Tufts University and elsewhere to share the findings of their latest studies. In addition to BPA, researchers found such "obesogenic" effects in several chemicals, including tributylin, a compound in paint that is used on the bottom of boats and that shows up in shellfish, and PFOA, a compound used in the lining of popcorn bags, pizza boxes, Teflon and other household products.

Even at levels considered safe, the chemicals seemed to promote fat. Researchers are just starting to explore the mechanisms by which this might occur, but the plastics compounds seem to affect molecular switches involved in regulating the metabolism. Some of the studies found the chemicals appear to affect how insulin works, increasing the risk for diabetes.

Clearly, eating too much and exercising too little is the major cause of the obesity epidemic. And so far, evidence that chemicals may contribute to obesity comes from studies of on mice and rats, not people. So the link remains far from proven. But the findings are so consistent that scientists say we should pay more attention.

By Rob Stein  |  May 15, 2008; 7:03 AM ET
Categories:  Obesity  
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Comments

Sure, sure, blame everything on your obesity problem and not on the fact we've become lazy, overeating slobs. These theories sound pretty ridiculous to me. Maybe it's not the lining of the popcorn bags and pizza boxes but the contents themselves....DUH! Yeah, sure -- bottled water is making us fat.

I recall in the late 1960's to the early 1980's I was young and thin. Now I'm getting older and my lifestyle has changed. I used to walk to work. Fast food places and Starbucks were not on every corner. I still had some energy at the end of the day. Now we're driving everywhere. Exhausted at the end of the day. Meals are eaten on the run, if they are eaten at all. My weekends are spent catching up on errands I can't get done during the week. People take their work with them by way of laptops, cell phones, Blackberries.

I don't think it's plastic making us fat -- our lifestyles have changed, we're getting older. Baby boomers are hitting retirement age and metabolism slows down with age, arthritis sets in, menopause adds inches to waistline. We're not as limber and active as we used to be. Take these 'studies' with a grain and salt, fold the newspaper, and go out for a walk.

Posted by: South of the Beltway | May 15, 2008 11:25 AM | Report abuse

Who will fund the next level of studies?

The plastics industry runs the risk of ruining its business. The general public faces a devastating shift in life as we've come to know it.

My concern is that the needed studies will not be authorized until irreparable damage has been done.

Posted by: John Gills | May 16, 2008 5:20 PM | Report abuse

I am inclined to agree with the findings that plastic may cause obesity. I am 75 years old, walk my three dogs at leat 2 miles a day ,do all my own yardwork and household chores. Suddenly, after Christmas 2006 I started gaining wieght,althoudh nothing in my diet or outine changed.
By April 2008, I had gained22 pounds. I stopped drinking wine for a month. I still kept gaining.I do not eat white foods(bread, potaoes, pasta etc or fried foods or junk foods.(I am a Nurse) Simply unbelevable.I am five feet tall and here I am-at 144lbs.My Dr said it may be hormonal. End of conversation.
I now drink two diet shakes and one small meal a day.I also take one tablet of Chromium Picolnate daily and it is included in the diet shake. It has something to do with making insulin more effective.
This discovery may explain why young kids are becoming obese and also more Type 2 dibetes.
I have been on this regimin 4 weeks-have lost 6 pounds.
I have become a believer and do not consume ANYTHING that is in plastic
s.

Posted by: lorene | May 20, 2008 2:30 PM | Report abuse

The vast increase in consumption of low-quality foods, especially those with large amounts of high-fructose corn syrup is likely to be a major contributor, as is the decrease in exercise -- specifically, exercise during childhood. There is also strong epidemiological and experimental data indicating that lack of sleep, and poor integration of sleep with the light/dark cycle, are major endocrine disruptors and risk factors for obesity. Plastics could also contribute.

What is clear is that few people will like the solutions to any of these potential problems, and many will continue to get fat.

I just wish that I didn't have to subsidize the airfares of all those folks.

Posted by: George Smiley | May 21, 2008 10:26 PM | Report abuse

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