New Theory: Plastic Can Make You Fat?

By Boonsri Dickinson | September 30, 2009 10:59 am

fatWhy do some people never get fat, while most of Americans do? Sure, one can blame eating too much popcorn and junk food and not getting enough exercise for the extra weight—but our eating habits may not be the only factor that determines our chubby destiny, argues University of California, Irvine’s Bruce Blumberg. There’s growing evidence that our exposure to plastic compounds —specifically obesogens—can disrupt the body’s metabolism, enough to make us gain weight.

Planet Green reports:

No one’s blaming these compounds for the country’s entire obesity epidemic—fast food and lack of exercise are not off the hook—but emerging research points to them as one cause of the unexplained tendency for some individuals to gain weight no matter what (or how little) they eat or how much they exercise. Obesogens seem to have the ability to disrupt the fundamental rule of weight management and body chemistry: weight gain occurs when calorie consumption exceeds the amount of energy burned.

It’s all about the timing and the amount of exposure to the plastic. Preventing adult weight loss might be too late, if it’s really childhood exposure to plastics that leads to a lifetime of weight problems.

Newsweek reported recently that:

In 2006 scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health reported that the prevalence of obesity in infants under 6 months had risen 73 percent since 1980. “This epidemic of obese 6-month-olds,” as endocrinologist Robert Lustig of the University of California, San Francisco, calls it, poses a problem for conventional explanations of the fattening of America. “Since they’re eating only formula or breast milk, and never exactly got a lot of exercise, the obvious explanations for obesity don’t work for babies,” he points out. “You have to look beyond the obvious.”

While plastics appear to be linked to obesity, scientists aren’t exactly sure how yet. In the meantime, it doesn’t hurt to exercise and eat right, minimize your exposure to plastics, and yes, hope that you have the skinny gene.

Related Content:
DISCOVER: The Dirty Truth About Plastic

Image: flickr/ Phoney Nickle

MORE ABOUT: fat, gene, obesity, plastic
  • Wellescent Health Blog

    It would be interesting to know whether obesity from exposure to plastics is due to hormone disruption. So many of the chemicals that humans introduce to the environment seem to have this unintended effect on both ourselves and other organisms.

  • Dennis

    It really plays hell with my BS detector when they create names like “obesogens”.

  • Gil

    Wouldn’t it violate thermodynamics to have weight gain not correlate to calories eaten minus calories burned?

  • Lee

    Couldn’t obesity in infants be related to the mother’s own weight, her diet during pregnancy and whether she has diabetes? Just last week there was a story in the news about the nineteen pound baby born to a diabetic mother in Indonesia. If more adults are obese doesn’t that mean more mothers-to-be are also obese? How does this affect the baby?

  • Karl

    Please correct the headline. This idea is a hypothesis, not a theory. A general science magazine aimed at the public must help people distinguish these notions. Because common parlance blurs “theory” and “hypothesis”, the public has, for example, conflated the Hypothesis of Evolution with the Theory of Creationism.

  • Art

    Oh Karl; you jokester, you!

  • Guy

    I think that Obesity is linked to people resisting passing gas, in the old days this was not a problem and it kept bystanders moving more often. That contributed to weight loss…

    But please don’t stop the great articles coming.

  • Chris

    Correlation is not causation. This is one of the weakest studies I have read about in months, if not years.

  • Kitty

    You may have something there. When my first two children were born, for the most part we used glass bottles. I used plastic with my third child. But with all my children, they were eating food by the time they were three months old. I breast fed for 6 weeks and my doctor had me start them on cereal and they had formula but by 3 months they started eating vegetables then meats and lastly fruits and desserts. My children were and still are all very healthy are not over-weight, never had cavities until they were in their twenties and are not picky eaters. Exposure to plastic was very little. Now everything the baby gets is in plastic for the first year almost. And they don’t start feeding them food until 6 or 9 months.

  • Jay Fox

    Plastics: The tobacco of the new millennium. The more the Big Chem companies insist they are safe, the more we should suspect otherwise. Take a look at the molecules associated with most plastics, and you’ll see that they come very close to resembling the very hormones controlling virtually everything in our bodies. To assume that there could be no problems with this fact is to be naive in the extreme.

    You want a theory (or hypothesis)? How about plastics and autism? While there are still some anti-vax holdouts, the real problem contributing to the rise in autism and other developmental disorders is exposure to plastics. Obesity? Well, there probably is a link there, too, but we can’t rule out all the crap they put in processed foods. Those avoiding plastic are probably the same ones eating real, healthy food.

    Prediction: More studies will be done, some revealing potential links to plastics and a myriad of health problems. Big Chem will sponsor more studies that show otherwise. The debate will go on for years. But the consequences of plastics will last for generations.

  • Lynn P.

    Look at pictures of classmates or movies from the 60’s and 70’s. Everyone was skinny. Even in old news reels of that time, of any group of people, you can see how thin they were, in comparison to now. It is not that junk food wasn’t around, or that we didn’t eat it. We didn’t spend our time jogging or working out. Desk jobs and sedentary jobs were common. We had cars, and just led normal lives. We didn’t eat out as much, that is true. But the differences seem to be either in the food itself, or in plastics. Plastics were not around very much before the 70’s. Meat was usually bought and wrapped in butcher paper, Coke and other sodas were in glass. Most shelf food except canned goods were in glass, not plastic. Remember glass mayonnaise jars and glass milk bottles? Milk eventually was packaged in wax coated cartons, before plastic took over. I don’t have any doubts that plastics contribute to screwing up our endocrine systems. We don’t know things until years later, and it’s as plausible as anything else I can think of . Some people eat next to nothing, and they are huge. People doubt that this can happen, but it does. Just as skinny people sometimes can eat like truck drivers, and cannot gain a pound. Genes may play a part, and I don’t doubt that, as you look at the build in whole families. They tend to look like each other. Same with animals. But we need to get plastics in general out of our diets and save them for medicine needs and industry.


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