Prevent childhood obesity by reducing your children’s exposure to chemicals

Prevent childhood obesity by reducing your children’s exposure to chemicals

January 30, 2023

Obesity is in the headlines almost daily and it’s no wonder why: according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years and more than one third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese. More than one in three!

This epidemic has compelled many to predict that our children will be the first generation to have a shorter lifespan than their parents. What’s going on?

Popular opinion says that poor nutrition and lack of exercise is the root of this problem. But, while lifestyle choices clearly play a major role in personal health, studies are increasingly showing something far more insidious – everyday exposures to common chemicals may be increasing our kids’ waistlines and causing obesity.

One of the most recent studies found that overweight young girls had significantly higher levels of phthalates in their bodiescompared to the general population of children. Phthalates, a type of hormone disruptor, are used in plastics (most often PVC) and in personal care products.

According to Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, a professor of pediatrics at Mount Sinai, and one of the lead researchers on the study, the results are preliminary and do not prove that phthalates cause obesity in children, simply that they seem to be linked. “Right now it’s a correlation; we don’t know if it’s cause and effect or an accidental finding,” Dr. Landrigan said. “The $64,000 question is, what is causal pathway? Does it go through the thyroid gland? Does it change fat metabolism?”

Even if we don’t know exactly how phthalates and obesity are linked, we do know phthalates are not the only potential offender. A small, but growing body of evidence in both animals and humans are finding a variety of hormone disruptors linked to obesity, including tributyltin, hexachlorobenzene (HCB), organotins, bisphenol-a (BPA), and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).

Reduce your exposure by following these easy steps:

  • Over 90 percent of all phthalates are used in PVC plastics, so avoid purchasing PVC products and packaging. (Check out Be Safe Net for more info).
  • Phthalates are also used in personal care products, so read labels and use to find the safest products.
  • HCB has been banned, but still contaminates soil and water, which results in the contamination of our food. The US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) recommends eating low fat meat and dairy to reduce your exposure to HCB.
  • Tributyltin and organotin are in the same family of chemicals. The US ATSDRrecommends these tips for reducing exposure to these compounds:
    • Reduce the amount of canned products you eat or drink and store unused portions in separate containers.
    • Reduce your consumption of seafood from waters that may be contaminated with organic tin compounds and your contact with household products that contain organotin compounds (for example, silicon-coated baking parchment paper). 
  • To avoid BPA, eat foods that are fresh, frozen, dried or in glass jars or tetra packs instead of canned (same for beverages). Also, avoid polycarbonate plastic (PC or #7).
  • Reduce your exposure to PFOA by replacing those easy-to-clean Teflon pans with cast iron, avoiding clothing and carpeting marketed as “stain-resistant,” and avoiding greasy, pre-packaged foods (and microwavable popcorn). You should also know that most take-out packaging is coated with Teflon, so try eating in or asking about alternative packaging.