Fast food could expose consumers to harmful chemicals, study finds
An American study has found 40% higher levels of phthalates in the urine of fast-food eaters than other consumers. These chemical products — notably used to make food packaging materials — can disrupt hormone levels and lead to birth defects. Bread, cakes, pizzas, burritos, rice dishes, noodles and meat were identified as the most significant sources of exposure.
Eating fast food could expose fans of take-out treats like burgers and pizzas to higher levels of potentially harmful chemical substances, according to an American study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The research found a clear link between this kind of food and the presence of phthalates in the body.
Phthalates are chemicals that are used in the manufacture of food packaging materials, plastic films, plastic tubing used in the dairy industry, and other products likely to be used in the production of fast-food items.
Researchers from George Washington University in the USA examined detailed data from almost 8,900 participants about their diets over the previous 24 hours, including their consumption of fast food. Urine samples were also collected from participants.
The scientists found that those who ate the highest amounts of fast food had 23.8% higher levels of DEHP and 40% higher levels of DINP in their urine sample compared to participants who said they ate no fast food in the 24 hours preceding the test. DEHP and DINP are two very similar substances — di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DHEP) and diisononyl phthalate (DINP) — which are mainly used as additives to make plastic materials more flexible. They can also be found in children’s toys, floor coverings, gloves, food packaging and food storage containers.
Products with the highest levels of phthalates identified by the scientists include meat products and grain items such bread, cakes, pizzas, burritos, rice dishes and noodles.
Phthalates have been found to disrupt hormone levels, which can in turn affect functions such as growth, development, mood and behavior, sleep, blood circulation, and sexual and reproductive function. Even low-level phthalate exposure can have serious effects on fetuses, embryos and young children. Genital malformation, early menopause or puberty, and infertility can all be consequences of exposure to the substances.
This new study adds extra weight to health recommendations encouraging people to avoid fast food and pick healthier options lower salt, fat and calories.
In spite of their potentially dangerous effects, the use of phthalates is only partially restricted and they can still be found in a wide range of products. However, in 2008 the American Congress banned the use of phthalates in the manufacture of children’s toys.