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Researchers discover unexpected factor contributing to obesity spike: 'The number of obese people worldwide has nearly tripled'

There has been some progress on banning substances linked to metabolic issues.

There has been some progress on banning substances linked to metabolic issues.

Photo Credit: iStock

New research suggests that exposure to plastic could be contributing to obesity, with thousands of chemicals in items made from the material unknown. 

What happened?

A study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology found over 55,000 types of chemicals present in common plastic products, and only 11 of those compounds were able to be identified, as detailed by Earth Day. 

All of the known chemicals, however, have been linked to changes in metabolism. Items examined by scientists include plastic wrap, shampoo bottles, kids bath sponges, and coffee cup lids.   

They also believe that many of the unidentifiable compounds in plastic could be  endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs, which are thought to affect appetite and increase the storage of fat, per Earth Day.   

Why is this concerning?

Obesity leads to an increased risk of certain diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer.

This can create extra expenses for people impacted, with the World Health Organization projecting that the global cost of healthcare associated with being overweight or obese could be as much as $3 trillion per year by 2030. As the study noted: "The number of obese people worldwide has nearly tripled since 1975." 

There are complex factors that increase the risk of obesity, including inequitable access to healthy foods and higher levels of air pollution. The study also pointed to aging, lifestyle changes, and genetic background as elements that have been "largely attributed" to the issue.  

Scientists concluded, however, that "epidemiological evidence suggests that these factors are not sufficient to explain the magnitude and speed of the obesity pandemic's spread."

More research is being conducted about the effects of plastics on our bodies, but tiny particles of the material known as microplastics have been found just about everywhere, including in human arteries, lungs, and placenta

What can be done about this?

There has been some progress on banning chemicals linked to metabolic issues, like bisphenol A (BPA). In 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the use of BPA-based materials in certain baby products. The European Commission also has a pending proposal to outlaw BPAs in food packaging.   

Making your voice heard in local and federal elections can help move the needle on policies that matter to you, and there are alternatives that could help limit your exposure to harmful chemicals in plastic. 

Reusable silicone food containers can save you from needing to shell out extra cash for plastic sandwich bags, and they can also double as doggy bags for restaurant leftovers.

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