Chemicals may be making people obese

Roughly 40 percent of American high school students were overweight by the time they started high school.  An estimated one-third of American youth age 17-24 are ineligible for military service because of obesity.

Worldwide, the incidence of obesity has tripled since the 1970s.  Experts estimate that by 2030, one billion people worldwide will be obese.

This matters.  Obesity is related to high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and other serious health problems.

Part of the reason for the obesity increase is that, compared to previous generations, people nowadays are more sedentary and eat more processed foods high in sugar, fat and salt.  But this can’t be the whole reason.

In the USA, the rise in obesity affects not only people, but their cats and dogs, and rats and mice in the wild.  It affects laboratory animals that are fed controlled diets.

Mark Buchanan of Bloomberg News reported that some scientists think obesity is caused by chemicals called “obesogens,” which, even in tiny amounts, boost the production of specific cell types and fatty tissue.

An example is a chemical called tributyltin, or TBT, which is found in wood preservatives.  In experiments exposing mice to low and supposedly safe levels of TBT, a scientist named Bruce Blumberg and his colleagues at the University of California, Irvine, found significantly increased fat accumulation not only in the exposed mice, but in the next three generations.

TBT and other obesogens trigger such effects by interfering directly with the normal biochemistry of the endocrine system, which regulates the storage and use of energy, as well as human eating behavior, Buchanan wrote.

Obesogen chemicals are found in plastic packaging, clothes and furniture, cosmetics, food additives, herbicides and pesticides.  Buchanan said nearly 1,000 obesogens have been identified in studies with animals or humans.  

That would explain why laboratory animals get fat.  There might be obesogens in their food or the structure of their cages.

If this is true, it is a big, big problem.  Fixing it would require a virtual revolution in testing and manufacturing.

LINKS

Plastic Might Be Making You Obese by Mark Buchanan for Bloomberg News.  Another version.

Plastic Might Be Making You Fat by Alex Tabbarok for Marginal Revolution.

The Animals Are Also Getting Fat by Alex Tabbarok for Marginal Revolution. (2013)

Why aren’t medical breakthroughs in obesity a bigger deal? by Matthew Yglesias for Grid.  [Added 09/17/2022]

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2 Responses to “Chemicals may be making people obese”

  1. Stephen Badrich Says:

    I’m thin. But how did I avoid all these chemicals in the environment. Any theories? I am NOT challenging the possibility that this hypothesis is true. It sounds plausible to me.

    Like

    • philebersole Says:

      I don’t know. I suppose some people could be more sensitive to chemicals in the environment than others, just as some people are more allergic to pollen or catch cold more easily than others. Of course, all other things being equal, being a vegetarian who works out regularly and avoids processed foods would probably make a difference.

      Like

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