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According to the World Health Organization, at least 2.8 million people die every year as a result of being overweight or obese. Poor diets and sedentary lifestyles are regularly viewed as the main contributor to the obesity epidemic. However, a recent study has revealed an unlikely suspect – plastic.

Is Plastic Causing an Obesity Epidemic?

The endocrine system in the body helps to regulate appetite, metabolism, and weight, among others. As such, endocrine disruptors are regularly studied due to their ability to affect our health. One of the most commonly known endocrine disruptors is Bisphenol A (BPA), which can be found in plastics.

However, there are thousands of chemicals found in plastic that have yet to be identified. As such, their effect on our health is unknown. Therefore, researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim decided to delve into this.

plastic
Photo by FLY:D on Unsplash

For the study, the researchers used methanol to extract chemicals from 34 everyday products. Over 55 000 chemical features were identified, including 629 known substances, and the results revealed something very weighty.

What did the study find?

“Given the potency of the extracted mixtures and considering our close and constant contact with plastics, our results support the idea that plastic chemicals can contribute to an obesogenic environment and, thus, the obesity pandemic.” Völker, 2022

According to the findings, which were published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, 11 of the identified chemicals were found to disrupt metabolism. In fact, these chemicals were found to be reprogramming stem cells to become fat cells, which then multiplied, introducing more fat.

The researchers found detected these substances in about one-third of the products they analyzed, including bottles of shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, trash can liners, freezer bags, kitchen sponges, and water bottles.

Chances are that you may want to scourge your home of any and all plastic. However, it should be noted that the study was done in vitro, not in vivo. What’s more, the causative chemicals remain unknown. Therefore, it is hard for the researchers to acknowledge the results as definitive. As such, future research is needed to support their findings.

Plastic-free living

Yes, more research is needed to understand the effect of plastic on our weight. However, that doesn’t mean that plastic isn’t still the enemy.

Previous research has linked chemicals found in plastic to be endocrine disruptors, which in turn increases the risk for cancer, diabetes, reproductive disorders, and neurological damage in fetuses and children (1).

In addition to harming human health, plastic is also accelerating the effects of climate change, with plastic waste being responsible for almost 4% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

The reality is that we need to find ways to start moving towards a plastic-free society. While it may take some time, it is possible.

Tips to reduce your plastic waste footprint include:
  • Stop using plastic straws and buy reusable stainless steel or glass straw
  • Use a reusable produce bag.
  • Give up gum. Gum is made of synthetic rubber, aka plastic.
  • Buy boxes instead of bottles.
  • Buy food from bulk bins and fill in a reusable bag or container.
  • Reuse containers to store leftovers or shop in bulk.
  • Use a reusable bottle or mug for your beverages.
  • Bring your own container for take-out
  • Use matches instead of disposable plastic lighters, or invest in a refillable metal lighter.
  • Avoid buying frozen foods because their packaging is mostly plastic.
belly fat
kurhan/shutterstock

Tackling the obesity epidemic

Even in 2022, obese and overweight patients are still often stigmatized, even by healthcare professionals. The fact of the matter is that obesity treatment is complex and requires compassion.

References

Völker, J., Ashcroft, F., Vedøy, Å., Zimmermann, L., & Wagner, M. (2022). Adipogenic Activity of Chemicals Used in Plastic Consumer Products. Environmental science & technology, 10.1021/acs.est.1c06316. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.1c06316

Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba is a beauty and wellness writer who has a passion for poetry, equality, natural hair, and skin-care. With a journalism degree from Pearson's Institute of Higher Education, and identifiable by either her large afro or colorful locks, Pie aspires to continuously provide the latest information, be it beauty or wellness, on how one can adopt a healthy lifestyle on a day-to-day basis.

The content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.