What Are Obesogens? And How to Avoid Them
January 3, 2023
By Alexandra Zissu, Editorial Director
Have you been seeing the word obesogens lately and want to know what it means?
Basically they are chemicals and pollutants that interfere with hormones and can program kids (and parents) to be obese. Sad but true.
“Diet and physical activity are the leading contributors to the obesity epidemic today,” says Dr. Leonardo Trasande, Associate Professor in Pediatrics, Environmental Medicine and Health Policy at NYU School of Medicine. “But increasing lab evidence suggests environmental chemicals may play a role.” One obesogen currently in the news is BPA (bisphenol-A), which is used to prevent corrosion in cans, among other applications. “It can produce the molecular hallmarks of childhood obesity. It makes fat cells bigger.” It can also limit adiponectin, which is protective against heart disease.
A recent study by NYU School of Medicine scientists, including Dr. Trasande, is the first to link BPA to obesity in children. Previous studies had linked it in adults and animals. “It found a strong and significant association,” says Dr. Trasande, who serves on Healthy Child Healthy World’s board. Groups with the highest levels of BPA in their urine had a twofold chance of being obese.
Other suspected environmental obesogens include phthalates, a broad group of chemicals found in everything from shower curtains to food packaging to synthetic fragrance. “In lab studies they appear to change how cells produce hormonal signals that influence lipid and carbohydrate metabolism,” says Dr. Trasande. “We need more research,” he adds, especially when it comes to prenatal and early life exposure to obesogens.
In the interim, it’s good common sense to minimize exposure to chemicals able to reprogram metabolism. Families can do this by avoiding processed foods. “Fresh fruits and vegetables have nutrients and themselves prevent obesity through a healthier balance of sugar, proteins, and fat. There may be other changes in our hormones that help us stay thinner,” says Dr. Trasande.
Worried about potential environmental toxins in your foods? Concerned parents can also: