The United States has been dealing with an obesity crisis for decades. Over the last decade, the prevalence of adult obesity has increased by more than 30%, alongside a slew of weight-related health conditions. Childhood obesity continues to be a problem, as well, perpetuating the cycle of overweight kids who become overweight adults.
America has an obesity problem—but not necessarily from lack of trying. Today there are more healthy food choices than ever, better access to nutritional information and low-to-no cost diet and exercise aids. Sure genetics plays a role in some cases, but the question remains: why does America’s obesity problem persist?
The answer may partially depend not on what we’re eating, but rather on the products we’re using. There’s growing concern of obesogens and the impact they have on our weight and health.
What are obesogens?
Obesogens are a group of chemicals identified to cause hormone disruption within the body, limiting the natural ability of the endocrine system to produce and regulate essential hormones. Many of these hormones correlate to different aspects of weight management—thus, disruption is likely to cause excessive weight gain and make it difficult for a person to lose that weight after they put it on. Hence the name: obesogens.
Right now, there are more than 20 different chemicals that have been defined as obesogens, based on the way they affect lipids. They’re shown to “alter lipid homeostasis and fat storage, change metabolic setpoints, disrupt energy balance or modify the regulation of appetite and satiety to promote fat accumulation and obesity.”
Obesogens are everywhere these days
Most people reading this will think, “great, another thing I need to avoid in my diet.” You’re partially right. The fact is, it’s nearly impossible to avoid obesogens these days, regardless of what you eat! The reason? Obesogens are commonly found in consumer products we use, not in what we eat. Here are a couple of examples:
- Phthalates are additives found in plastics, including food packaging. They’re responsible for increasing the flexibility and longevity of plastic, but can leach into food where they’re consumed by people. As many as 75% of people have an excess of phthalates in their body, according to a 2007 study.
- Bisphenol A (BPA). This is an obesogenic most people have heard of, largely due to its links to infertility and diabetes. It can also play a role in childhood obesity, according to recent studies. It’s why you often see BPA-free baby bottles and kids toys! Unfortunately, BPA continues to be one of the most prevalent obesogens today.
- Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs). Despite being banned by the U.S. in 1979, PCBs are still widely prevalent today because of their inability to break down over time. Decades of use have left PCBs in our water supply, soil and building products—all around us. It’s nearly impossible to avoid them!
In addition to these largely prevalent obesogens, there are also others to consider, including Atrazine (an herbicide), Tributyltin (an antifouling chemical) and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA), a highly-prevalent water contaminant often used in plastics and a likely carcinogen.
How do I avoid obesogens if they’re everywhere?
Looking at the list above, it can seem impossible to avoid obesogens. But, while hard, it’s not impossible. If you’re looking to drop a few pounds, you might also consider adopting an environmentally friendly lifestyle. Why? Because a return to nature is proven to be one of the best ways to cut obesogens out of your life. Here are a few simple tips:
- Use as little plastic as possible and opt for glass or natural packaging if available
- Do not microwave plastics—instead, try to cook fresh meals often
- Avoid purchasing cosmetics that contain artificial ingredients and chemicals
- Opt for fragrance-free, natural cleaning and hygiene products
- Use cast-iron or stainless-steel cookware and avoid non-stick coated products
- Use a natural water filtering system, such as reverse osmosis or charcoal filter
- Buy and eat fresh foods that aren’t packaged in plastic
Many of these suggestions fit perfectly within a healthy lifestyle approach. For example, if you’re trying to lose weight, you should only shop the outside of the store, where there are fresh, unpackaged products. Likewise, if you’re cooking healthy food, you’re not microwaving processed foods.
As it becomes harder and harder to avoid obesogens, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that a natural-focused lifestyle is the right one. Whether you’re trying to lose weight and avoid obesity or you’re experiencing the effects of obesogens in other ways, it pays to look back to nature.