Look around. Count the obese people. It’s easy.. because there are now SO many.
Most recent statistics covering the period from 2017 to 2020 tell us that 41.9% of Americans as obese, with severe obesity almost doubling to 9.2% over the last two decades.
As I look, it’s tempting (if a bit ghoulish) to guess what they will die of. Will it be heart disease, stroke or type 2 diabetes — some of the leading causes of premature death?
Yes, yes, we are drenched with ‘fixit’ messages here on the web.
Eat less, exercise more.
But how come we constantly hear of people doing just that and hey, they still pack the pounds?
Now we learn that the chemicals we encounter every day make it easier to unintentionally gain weight
And worse.. they may even make it more difficult to lose it.
These sneaky chemicals are called “obesogens” and as more doctors learn about them, the are beginning to incorporatethis research into their practices and recommendations.
What are ‘obesogens’?
Obesogens: an endocrine-disrupting chemical.
Quick refresher: your endocrine system is made up of glands that make hormones.
Those hormones are your body’s “chemical messengers”. They control myriad important parts and functions of the body.
Obesogens, as endocrine-disrupting chemicals, sneak into that messenger system and begin to wreak havoc on your health in as many ways as your endocrine system helps.
Generally, obesogens are described as chemicals that can cause the human (and animal) body to produce more fat than it normally would. Yes, sugar is on the obesegen list, but they also include an array of chemicals now used in all sorts of products, such as BPA, phthalates and more. So we are getting fat from chemicals we don’t even eat.. or don’t think we eat.
How obesogens work
The way they impact your body depends on the type of obesogen, and can include:
- Disrupting your metabolism, causing your body to produce new or larger fat cells
- Blocking fat cells from releasing stored fat to use as energy
- Altering your eating habits
- Impacting your gastrointestinal tiome, which affects how food is digested.
Today, because they are so prevalent, obesogens can begin affecting us early as prenatal development. They can continue to cumulatively act across one’s lifespan - but prenatal exposures are most sensitive to their effects and can cause obesity later in life.
Where am I getting obesogens?
Many common products contain obesogens:
- Plastic food storage containers
- Plastic toys
- Non-stick cookware
- Personal care products
- Cleaning supplies
- Medical devices
- Flame retardants
- Processed food additives: preservatives, emulsifiers, flavor enhancers, high fructose corn syrup
- And more
Obesogens are added to these products for a reason — obesogens can make plastics harder or more flexible, make textiles stain or water resistant, packaging grease resistant.. the list is as long as industry can make it.
Can we escape them? It’s going to be a battle, but researchers and doctors are pushing for those chemicals to be removed as more unintentional health impacts are revealed.
The most common obesogens?
But wait! There’s more!
- Air pollution: We now know that early exposure to air pollution increases the risk of childhood obesity.
- Pesticides: for example, DDT. Though it was banned in the U.S. in 1972 due to environmental impacts, DDT persists for many years in the environment and in animal tissues and can cause health effects generations after exposure.
- Phthalates: often added to plastics to increase their flexibility and found in cosmetic products, hair and skin care products, feminine care products, fast food wrappers, sunscreens, children’s toys, food storage containers and more
- Bisphenol-A (BPA): while it may be more common to find BPA-free products these days, BPA is only officially banned in baby bottles. You may still find BPA in water bottles, canned food linings, receipts, food containers, toys and more. Keep in mind, too: just because a plastic product is BPA-free does not mean the alternative chemical used in the product is any safer
- PFAS: called “forever chemicals” for their inability to break down in our bodies and in the environment, PFAS chemicals are found in a vast number of consumer products and in drinking water supplies.
Avoiding exposure to obesogens
Avoiding obesogens is difficult. However, any step to limit your exposure can make a difference. Here are some ideas:
- Avoid storing or purchasing food in plastic. Especially avoid heating foods in plastic — this includes frozen dinners and vegetable steamer bags! Heating plastic makes it much more likely that chemicals like obesogens will leak into food
- Use glass or stainless steel containers and bottles instead of plastic
- Use cast iron, stainless steel or enameled cookware. Nonstick coatings are known to contain toxic chemicals like obesogens
- Check your personal care products against databases like the EWG’s Skindeep Cosmetics database. Look for organic ingredients, and “less is more” - the fewer ingredients, the better!
- Go for fragrance-free products unless the fragrances are explicitly disclosed and safe.
- Filter your water! There are a number of options (for a variety of budgets): filter pitchers you can keep in your fridge, under-sink filters and more, but ASK whether the filter you choose does actually remove things like PFAs.
- Do not choose flame-resistant and water-repellent carpets, furniture, tablecloths, etc. — the chemicals that make those properties possible are usually obesogens.
Learn more/Go Deeper
Check out EHS program HEEDS - Healthy Environment and Endocrine Disruptor Strategies - for a more technical exploration of obesogens research. Check out their comprehensive review articles on obesogens.
Ian: It’s sometimes hard to bring up new and nasty contaminants to our readers. You are already flooded with information like this almost every day in your email inbox. So we really try to make it easy for you by linking the problem with a viable solution. In this case, as you know, our specialty is high performance water filtration, and we know that the vast number of ‘ordinary’ water filters designed decades ago just don’t make the cut. We are constantly updating our flagship UltraStream so that our long term customers receive the latest and the best filtration every time they order a new filter.
At the basic level of our desire to share this ‘bad news’ is our belief that today, these chemicals have a cumulative effect on our individual health. From talking with thousands of peopl about their water we believe that although a drink of tap water may have no immediate effect, if it is ‘drip-feeding you with obesogens in the forms we’ve discussed, then your body is accumulating those chemicals. And.. that can’t be good.