Pollution makes you fat?

Photo courtesy of Joe_13 at Flickr.com.

Pollution has been blamed for a wide variety of health ailments, including heart disease, asthma, various forms of cancer, and toxic shock. New evidence suggests that pollution may also be contributing to the worldwide obesity epidemic. The research focused on a particular pesticide (Hexachlorobenze) and monitored babies from birth until the age of 6 and a half years old. It found a sharp increase in obesity rates for children with the highest exposure to HCB.

This study suggests very strongly that exposure to HCB in the womb causes an increased risk of obesity. The mechanism is unknown, but exposure to chemicals can trigger the expression of certain genes, and chemical exposure can also alter the blood chemistry of women who are pregnant. This study is worrisome because even though HCB has been banned, there are many similar chemicals that we’re exposed to every day in our cosmetics, drinking water, and food supply.

Experiments have shown that many chemicals fed to pregnant animals cause their offspring to grow up obese. These include organotins, long employed in antifouling paints on ships and now widely found in fish; bisphenol A (BPA), used in baby bottles and to line cans of food, among countless other applications; and phthalates, found in cosmetics, shampoos, plastics to wrap food, and in a host of other everyday products.

These pollutants – dubbed “obesogens” as a result of these findings – are so ubiquitous that almost everyone now has them in their bodies. Ninety-five per cent of Americans excrete BPA in their urine; 90 per cent of babies have been found to be exposed to phthalates in the womb; and every umbilical cord analysed in the new Spanish study was found to contain organchlorine pesticides such as HCB.

It’s important to remember that correlation doesn’t guarantee causation. For example, ice cream sales and deaths from drowning both increase during the summer, but it would be ridiculous to say that reducing ice cream sales would save people from drowning. More study is clearly needed.

In the meantime, there are some fruits and vegetables that are much more likely to contain pesticides. You may want to cut down your consumption of peaches, strawberries, sweet bell peppers, apples, and other heavily contaminated foods, and instead substitute foods with lower pesticide exposure, such as sweet corn, avocados, onions, mangoes, and pineapples. If you can’t live without your peaches, organic produce is available for many of the highest risk items.

Photo courtesy of fwickafwee at Flickr.com.

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