• Do Phthalates Increase the Risk of Obesity? - Chromatography Investigates

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Do Phthalates Increase the Risk of Obesity? - Chromatography Investigates

Oct 30 2020

Obesity is a growing global health problem. The World Health Organization estimate that worldwide obesity has tripled since 1975 with over 1.9 billion adults overweight and 650 million categorized as obese in 2016. It is also common in the UK with 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 5 children described as obese in the UK. Doctors have known for decades that obesity can reduce life expectancy and lead to other serious disease including cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Lack of exercise and too many calories are known to cause obesity, but there are other factors which can affect a person’s risk of becoming obese. Some underlying medical conditions and some medications can help to contribute towards obesity. Genetics is not a prime cause – everyone can eat healthy and lose weight. But researchers also acknowledge that environmental factors may contribute to obesity. One hypothesis is that exposure to phthalates can contribute to the development of obesity. Researchers in Sweden have investigated the link between exposure to phthalates and obesity using data from a longitudinal study and chromatography.

Calories and exercise

Obesity is mainly caused by eating too much and moving about too little. Too many calories from sugars and fat combined with not enough movement to burn off the excess energy will mean that the surplus energy is stored in the body as fat. Some underlying genetic conditions can affect obesity – Prader-Willi syndrome for example, but generally genetics does not stop people exercising and eating healthily. It is true that some inherited traits such as a large appetite make weight control harder. But they do not stop people controlling their weight. Underlying medical conditions like an underactive thyroid gland or Cushing’s syndrome can contribute to weight gain, but this should not be the case with proper diagnosis and treatment.

Phthalates and obesity – chromatography explores

Phthalates are used globally and are the most widely used plasticiser – allowing plastics to be moulded into useful items. Unfortunately, phthalates don’t bind too strongly to the materials they are used with. The weak binding allows the phthalates to migrate to their surroundings meaning that the general population can be exposed to phthalates. Food, drinks, dust, and skin contact are all exposure routes with children more likely to be exposed due to higher intake from food.

The link between obesity and phthalates is unclear. In the study referenced above - Exposure to environmental phthalates during preschool age and obesity from childhood to young adulthood – published in Environmental Research found significant associations between phthalates exposure at 4 years old and obesity levels at 24 years old. The researchers analysed urine phthalate levels using chromatography. The use of chromatography is discussed in the article, A question of taste


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