The answer to that question can be really surprising. Oh, I know it’s far more popular to write a post about a new diet fad, some pill or food or magic bullet I can talk you into taking that I promise will make you thin. Or to write a motivational piece about how you should get up and jog and run and climb monkey bars or whatever else is handy to get your butt shagging and this will make you thin, right? Oh, if the solution was only that simple. And those of you who have taken all the pills, foods and magic bullets and have climbed the monkey bars on your way to the daily jog and still jiggle when you walk, you know it’s not. But what are the real reasons you are fat? Could it be something around you that has nothing to do with what you actually eat or how often you exercise?
Now, I won’t be the one to tell people to eat what they like or to stop exercising. Our sedate society is making all of us lazy and unproductive to some degree. People were made for physical labor, to build their own huts, to hunt their own food, to run through the jungle, literally. Our current technology oriented sit on your butt and eat lifestyle can’t be good, no matter what. But what if it’s not the only factor in your weight problem? What if it is in the world around you? Among those things that you have made a part of your beloved lifestyle or among the expensive and much desired objects you surround yourself with? What if?
As early as 2002, a Scientist in Scotland published a paper about the link between obesity and synthetic chemicals. This event was chronicled in a big story in Newsweek by Sharon Begley, published in 2009. This discovery sparked interest from others in the field and many other studies followed. Just as early, in Japan, scientists were finding that bisphenol A (a chemical compound used to make plastic drinking bottles and baby bottles, among other things) pushed certain cells to become fat cells in experiments performed in the lab. They also found that BPA accelerated the growth of existing fat cells. If their results held true outside the lab in people, it would mean that BPA, and potentially other synthetic chemicals, were in fact contributing to obesity. I have written quite a bit on this blog about BPA (Bisphenol A); you can read those posts here and here.
Now, I have a lot of Tupperware that I put my food in. My family is constantly dragging around plastic water bottles, sucking away. Personally, I bought 2 stainless steel bottles and I use them instead but there are still plastic cups in the house that I favor. BPA is a hardener that is added to plastic to make it durable and so it is used in cups, storage containers, bins, water and soda bottles, baby bottles, containers, jugs and any other hard plastic container or object. It’s even in some toys your kids are no doubt chewing on. Polycarbonate bottles are the worst offenders. Canned food is a fast follower with most cans being lined with this chemical. And, by God, they have found direct connections between this stuff and fat cells! What more do we need to get us OFF of this stuff? I’d rather drink my water out of ditch than put anything in my body that’s going to make me fatter. I am already fat enough, thank you. But what do you replace plastic glasses with? Glass drinking containers break and are not cheap enough to be disposable. Somebody needs to find a solution to this problem; it is a big one. I think disposable glass containers could be a solution as long as they are recycled so that the cost can come down over time.
But BPAs are not the only demon in your over sized panties. Later on, as recently as 2006, Scientists Bruce Bloomberg at the University of California, Irvine exposed pregnant mice to a chemical called tributyltin, which is found in marine paints and plastics and often ends up in people through drinking water. In the Newsweek article, Begley writes that Bloomberg found that, “The offspring were born with more fat already stored, more fat cells, and became 5 to 20 percent fatter by adulthood.” Although I do not condone the use of mice in these awful experiments, the findings are extremely important to human beings. If this stuff is in marine paint, for instance, then it is in the waterways in large amounts and through that water source, it is also in our drinking water. We do not have a method of removing everything from drinking water. Drugs and chemicals are not boiled or distilled out of water; in fact, in recent years water testing in cities have shown drinking water to be heavily tainted by drugs like Heroin, Oxycodone and Prozac. And people are drinking that as you read this article. How healthy can that be? Just the fact that the water is loaded with these drugs proves the rule; there is no doubt it is full of chemicals, too.
In her article for Newsweek, Begley also reported that the experiments showed that tributyltin activated a receptor called PPAR gamma, which acts like a switch inside cells. This switch, in one position, allows cells to remain fibroblasts, in another, it guides them to become fat cells. It is a known fact that the diabetes drugs Actos and Avandia activate PPAR gamma and that one of their major side effects is obesity. The effect was so strong and so reliable that the scientists renamed the cells that resulted from this, “obesegens”. Just another name for something that causes obesity.
Shockingly, continued testing would prove that tributyltin is not the only obesegen out there, but that phthalates qualify, as well. They also act on the PPAR pathway, leading to even more fat cells. And where do you find phthalates? They are in vinyl and vinyl plastics like shower curtains. They also fingered perfluoroalkyl compounds, which are found in stain repellents and non-stick cooking surfaces. So while you are frying your egg in your frying pan with your low calorie cooking spray, you might as well lard it up. The damned frying pan itself is going to make you fat! Oh, and afterwards, you can store the leftovers in a hard plastic container and then drag your fat butt upstairs to take shower. Just add the curtain to the litany of other bath products that I have blogged about. You can be fat AND sick.
But the whole nightmare doesn’t end here. In 2005, scientists in Spain reported that the more pesticides children were exposed to as fetuses, the greater their risk of being overweight as toddlers. This basically boils down to what your mother was exposed to while pregnant. So if she ended up in a roach infested apartment….? And last January, scientists in Belgium found that children exposed to higher levels of PCBs and DDE (the breakdown product of the pesticide DDT) before birth were fatter than those exposed to lower levels. So children that are born on farms or near large agricultural concerns are exposed to this stuff at a young age and are likely to end up fat? How awful.
According to Retha Newbold of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in North Carolina, neither study proves causation, but they “support the findings in experimental animals.” And, also according to her, they “show a link between exposure to environmental chemicals … and the development of obesity.” And, to add to the mix, a recent study in Michigan also found prenatal exposure to DDT may be contributing to obesity in women. The evidence is just piling up. So how good do the pills, the diets and the exercise regimens look to you now? Do you think they’ll work if you’re sucking on a plastic water bottle between leg lifts?
Now, I am not trying to say that this research means that every last case of obesity is the result of chemicals and that factors like diet and exercise aren’t important. They still are. But especially for younger kids who are growing up in an increasingly more toxic environment, these chemicals may be all around them, even in the womb. And we owe it to our children and all future generations to get it right; their health depends on it.
Please take a closer look at these “obesegens”. The “plasticizer” phthalates for instance, are so prevalent that an estimated 1 billion pounds are produced each year worldwide. The Environmental Working Group reports that phthalates are found in “toys, food packaging, hoses, raincoats, shower curtains, vinyl flooring, wall coverings, lubricants, adhesives, detergents, nail polish, hair spray and shampoo.” Chances are your bathroom is loaded up with phthalates. Look for the type 3 recycling symbol with the word “PVC” as a marker for phthalates. Please take a moment to read the Wikipedia entry on phthalates.
PCBs were used as coolants and lubricants in electric equipment and have also been added to plastics, inks, adhesives, paints, and flame retardants. PCBs are not only in the products we buy but are also in the air and water. A lot of us get exposed to them through eating fish, especially the predatory fish like swordfish and shark. These fish are not only swimming in a sea of PCBs they are also eating lots of little fish that are poisoned as well. Look for these names on products: Aroclor xxxx, Asbestol, Askarel, Bakola131, Chlorextol, Hydol, Inerteen, Noflamol, Pyranol/Pyrenol, Saf-T-Kuhl or Therminol. These are PCBs. This product is most commonly used in industrial products. Please read the entry on Wikipedia about PCBs.
Bisphenol A (or BPA) is often found in hard plastics, including baby bottles, food-storage containers, water coolers, dental fillings, the lining inside canned goods, sports equipment, CDs, sunglasses … almost everything. If it’s plastic, doesn’t bend and is durable, is BPA. This is most often polycarbonate bottles. Look for the number 7 Recycling Symbol to identify products that leach BPA. You should also stop buying canned foods (oh, I know that hurts!) because cans are lined with BPA for insulation. Your canned beans are basically stewed in BPA. Take a moment to read the entry on Wikipedia about the horrors of Bisphenol A.
All of these chemicals are actual endocrine disruptors, which are responsible for other such perversities in nature as sex-changing fish. In humans, we are learning that they are a frightening menace. In June 2009, the Endocrine Society, a nearly century-old international association of endocrinologists, issued a statement in a 50-page paper, the first scientific statement issued by the society. In it, the authors wrote: “We present evidence that endocrine disruptors have effects on male and female reproduction, breast development and cancer, prostate cancer, neuroendocrinology, thyroid, metabolism and obesity and cardiovascular endocrinology. Results from animal models, human clinical observations and epidemiology studies converge to implicate EDCs as a significant concern to public health.
In our modern society, obesity is fast becoming a scourge. Since studying obesity in adults is tricky due to the high number of factors, the most compelling research on the subject has come from a study from the Harvard School of Public Health in 2006 that looked at medical records of more than 120,000 kids over a 22-year period.
Boiled down to the facts, the study found that the number of obese children under the age of 6 years has jumped 59 percent over that 22 year period. That’s a leap from only 6% all the way to 10%. To top that off, the study also showed that there has been an increase in overweight infants at an outrageous 74%. This occurred between 1980 and 2001. And this is a horror story for these babies because accelerated accelerated weight gain in the first few months after birth is associated with obesity later in life. Everybody knows that fat cells develop in infancy and are with us for the rest of our lives. Sure, you can shrink them down somewhat but you can’t kill the little buggers.
So these chemicals that are contributing to obesity are the nexus of environmental and health concerns. The health care costs associated with obesity is many times that of treating thinner people. The long term health issues are inescapable; heart disease, digestive disorders, circulatory problems to name just a few. And as long as these dangerous chemicals are allowed to proliferate in our air, water, food and the products around our homes, the greater the threat to our own health, and the more of a burden it places on a health care system teetering at the edge of catastrophe. And we cannot allow the discussion about obesity to disintegrate into name calling or caricatures of fat people as indolent, self indulgent, useless burdens or we will miss the point. We can’t allow it to obscure the fact that one potent cause of weight gain may be largely beyond an individual’s control– and is essentially under the control of all of us.
So that brings me around to what can you do? What can you do in your life, starting today, to change this situation? Well, first of all, divest yourself of all products containing these chemicals. Spare your children, your family, your friends and yourself. When you stop buying this dangerous garbage they will stop making it. I don’t care how cheap it is. Do without or put yourself in danger, these are the choices. There ARE alternatives. Detox your home and change your shopping habits. Change starts with you.. and there is no reason not to start that change right now.