Do chemicals in plastic consumer products, and other endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), contribute to obesity?

In a recent study published in Environmental Science & Technology, Dr. Martin Wagner and co-authors investigated whether everyday plastic consumer products contain chemicals that induce adipogenesis, a key process in the development of obesity. These investigators found that, indeed, the chemicals extracted from one third of the products trigger the differentiation and proliferation of adipocytes or fat cells, which were developing towards an unhealthy phenotype. They also showed that plastics contain known metabolism-disrupting chemicals but believe that other, so far unknown, plastic chemicals caused these effects. Based on their new findings, these researchers argue that plastics may represent an underestimated environmental factor contributing to obesity.

You can view the recent Collaborative on Health and the Environment webinar with speaker Dr. Martin Wagner titled, “Do chemicals in plastic consumer products contribute to obesity?”, by going to the following URL:

To access the webinar slides, go to:

https://www.healthandenvironment.org/webinars/96602

Citation:

Völker J, Ashcroft F, Åsa Vedøy A, et al. Adipogenic activity of chemicals used in plastic consumer products. Environmental Science & Technology 2022; 56 (4):2487-2496. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.1c06316

More recently, three scientific reviews published in the journal Biochemical Pharmacology, which cover what obesogens are, how they contribute to obesity, and methods for studying them, point out how paying attention to obesogens can help shift the focus in obesity research from treatment to prevention of obesity. Scientists also call for a reduction in exposure to obesogens, which are ubiquitous in everyday life, as a method to slow the obesity epidemic.

According to Heindel and colleagues (2022), “[o]besogens are a subset of environmental chemicals that act as endocrine disruptors affecting metabolic endpoints. The obesogen hypothesis posits that exposure to endocrine disruptors and other chemicals can alter the development and function of the adipose tissue, liver, pancreas, gastrointestinal tract, and brain, thus changing the set point for control of metabolism. Obesogens can determine how much food is needed to maintain homeostasis and thereby increase the susceptibility to obesity. The most sensitive time for obesogen action is in utero and early childhood, in part via epigenetic programming that can be transmitted to future generations.” Many obesogens are not found in food rather they enter the body through other consumer products, including plastics, makeup, shampoos, and cleaners. Obesogens can also get into food from pesticides and food packaging (van Deelen, 2022).

To reduce exposure to obesogens, one can limit consumption of pre-packaged and highly processed foods (e.g., ultra-processed foods), which often come in containers made with obesogens such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and other plastic additives. Avoiding fruits and vegetables treated with pesticides or buying certified organic produce is another way to reduce exposure (van Deelen, 2022). The Environmental Working Group has their “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” lists so individuals can determine which fruits and vegetables contain the highest and lowest pesticide residues so consumers can make the best decisions for their families. To access these lists, go to: https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php

Citations:

Lustig RH, Collier D, Kassotis C, et al. Obesity I: Overview and molecular and biochemical mechanisms. Biochem Pharmacol. 2022 Mar 30:115012. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2022.115012. Epub ahead of print.

Heindel JJ, Howard S, Agay-Shay K, et al. Obesity II: Establishing causal links between chemical exposures and obesity. Biochem Pharmacol. 2022 Apr 5:115015. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2022.115015. Epub ahead of print.

Kassotis CD, Vom Saal FS, Babin PJ, et al. Obesity III: Obesogen assays: Limitations, strengths, and new directions. Biochem Pharmacol. 2022 Mar 26:115014. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2022.115014. Epub ahead of print.

Sources:

van Deelen G. Chemicals in everyday products are spurring obesity, warns a new review (April 25, 2022)

https://www.ehn.org/chemicals-in-food-that-cause-obesity-2657191067/obesity-levels

Plastics pose threat to human health (December 15, 2020)

https://www.endocrine.org/news-and-advocacy/news-room/2020/plastics-pose-threat-to-human-health

Additional resources include:

Obesity and endocrine-disrupting chemicals (Review Article, Endocrine Connections) (2021)

https://ec.bioscientifica.com/view/journals/ec/10/2/EC-20-0578.xml

A technical report published by the Endocrine Society and the International Pollution Elimination Network (IPEN) titled “Plastics, EDCs & Health(2020) can be accessed at:

See the below infographic that lists 9 Tips for Living with Less Plastic. (Source: Less Plastic)

And finally, Foodprint offers tips for simple alternatives to using plastic wrap:

5 Reusable Plastic Wrap Alternatives

Published by greengrass50

My name is Christine McCullum-Gomez, PhD, RDN. I am a registered dietitian nutritionist with expertise in environmental nutrition, food and nutrition policy, food and nutrition security, food justice, chronic disease prevention, regenerative & organic agriculture, and sustainable healthy dietary patterns. Currently, I serve on the Editorial Review Board and as a Column Editor for the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition. I live in Bogota, Colombia with my husband, two teenagers (boy-girl twins), and our dog Honey. My website is: www.sustainablerdn.com. You can follow me on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/cmccullumgomez/

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