When we talk about the epidemic of obesity in the U.S. (and it is an epidemic, with 35 percent of adults and 17 percent of kids now obese), we typically go straight to talking about diet and exercise as both culprit and solution. But increasingly there’s evidence of another player in the mix: a cluster of environmental chemicals now collectively known as obesogens.
Every month, it seems, more evidence emerges linking these toxins to our growing national problem with fat and related ills such as diabetes and metabolic syndrome. And the list of implicated chemicals is growing as well, now extending to flame retardants, pesticides, plasticizers, and industrial by-products.
How do chemicals trigger our bodies to gain weight? The exact mechanisms haven’t yet been identified; much of the research is still in early stages. But the gist is that certain chemicals appear to set the stage for obesity by priming cells, both in utero and after birth, to be more fat-friendly.
According to Jerry Heindel, leader of the reproductive and developmental toxicology group of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, more than 15 chemicals and classes of chemicals have been identified as potential “obesogens.”
“We have 57 separate studies under way and can expect a huge increase in the amount of data available,” Heindel said.
In other words, what we know today is just the beginning. Of the toxins under study, which are the worst offenders? It’s early to make predictions, but here are five chemicals or groups of chemicals that recent studies have found to be potential fat triggers.