People who reported consuming more fast food were exposed to higher levels of potentially harmful chemicals known as phthalates, according to a study published by researchers at the George Washington University. People who ate the most fast food had phthalate levels that were as much as 40 percent higher.
Phthalates belong to a class of industrial chemicals used to make food packaging materials, tubing for dairy products, and other items used in the production of fast food. Other research suggests these chemicals can leach out of plastic food packaging and can contaminate highly processed food.
The research team looked at data on 8,877 participants who had answered detailed questions about their diet in the past 24 hours, including consumption of fast food. These participants also had provided researchers with a urinary sample that could be tested for the breakdown products of two specific phthalates--DEHP and DiNP.
More fast food consumed, higher level of phthalates
The investigators found that the more fast food participants in the study ate the higher the exposure to phthalates.
People in the study with the highest consumption of fast food had 23.8 percent higher levels of the breakdown product for DEHP in their urine sample. They also had nearly 40 percent higher levels of DiNP metabolites in their urine compared to people who reported no fast food in the 24 hours prior to the testing.
Grains and meat biggest contributors
Grain and meat items were the most significant contributors to phthalate exposure. The grain category contained a wide variety of items including bread, cake, pizza, burritos, rice dishes and noodles. Other studies have also identified grains as an important source of exposure to phthalates.
The researchers also looked for exposure to another chemical found in plastic food packaging: Bisphenol A (BPA). It’s thought to exposure to BPA can lead to health and behaviour problems, especially for young children. This study found no association between total fast food intake and BPA. However, it did find that people who ate fast food meat products had higher levels of BPA than people who reported no fast food consumption.
This study fits into a bigger field of ongoing research showing that phthalates are in a wide variety of personal products, toys, perfume and even food. In 2008 the U.S. Congress banned the use of phthalates in the production of children's toys because of concerns about the health impact of these chemicals.
The researchers note, though, that DEHP and DiNP are two phthalates still used despite concerns that they leach out of products and get into the human body. Studies of these chemicals suggest they can damage the reproductive system and may lead to infertility.
Large studies that might conclusively link phthalates in fast food and health problems could take years to conduct.
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