Another Factor of Obesity: Plastics

In the wake of The American Medical Association officially recognized obesity as a disease and the many conversations surrounding it, I wanted to highlight an aspect that, in my observation, doesn’t get enough attention. One in three Americans are obese. There are lots of theories that pinpoint the high rise in obesity: the increased consumption of processed foods, over-consumption of high caloric foods, lack of exercise, genetic disposition, lack of will power etc. While I tend to opt for the first four as contributing culprits, the role of plastics and packaging in general isn’t highlighted enough.

Many man made chemicals (many of them found in plastics) are endocrine disruptors, which can and do change the hormones of humans, including the stimulation of fat storage, appetite, and regulation of sugar. With the rise of processed food and drink consumption, this is very biologically plausible. According to Watershed, the US consumers consume 1500 plastic water bottles per second. The analogy I use often in my green speaking engagements is imagine a water bottle on a hot summer day in a car. Imagine what it looks like. It starts to break down and get wrinkly. It is a plastic water bottle made of chemicals. If the bottle is breaking down, that means the chemicals are breaking down. And that means those chemicals are most likely going into the water still in your bottle and you will consume them.

From ABC News:

“Clearly bad diet and lack of exercise are the leading contributors to childhood obesity, but this study suggests a significant role for environmental, particularly chemical factors in that epidemic,” said study author Dr. Leonardo Trasande, an associate professor of pediatrics and environmental medicine at the NYU School of Medicine.

Trasande and colleagues measured body mass and urinary BPA — an indirect way of measuring BPA exposure — in more than 2,800 American children and teens. While over 92 percent of the study subjects had detectable levels of BPA in their urine, those with the highest levels were 2.6 times more likely to be obese than those with the lowest levels, even after controlling for diet and exercise.

BPA, an ingredient in some hard plastics and metal cans, made headlines in 2008 when it was found to leach out of plastic when heated.

The link between BPA and obesity is biologically plausible, according to Trasande. In animals, the chemical makes fat cells bigger and inhibits the function of adiponectin, a protein that helps break down sugars and fats. It also appears to disrupt hormones that play a key role in energy balance.

When looking into the history of processed foods, in the 1960s, aluminum cans were originally used along with irradiation to sterilize fruits and vegetables. Processed foods from the 1960s included: Tab and Diet Pepsi soft drinks, Green Giant frozen veggies in butter sauce, Pringles, and Gatorade (which originally came in glass bottles). Like other brands, all of the above eventually switched to using plastic some form of plastic within the next 10-15 years, thus increased exposure to plastics in the everyday American diet.

Solutions To Go Plastic Free

Use glass storage containers for your food. Many containers come with plastic lids so ensure your food is low enough not to touch the lid and remove the lid when reheating food. I am not a microwave user and do not advocate for it, but if you must use, remove the lid.
Image: Kinetic Go Green Premium Nano Silver 14 Piece Food Storage Container Set

For the Kiddies, Wean Green Wean Cubes can be used as baby food glass containers or to store snacks.

masonjars Mason jars are great for in home storage or taking food or drinks on the go from storing you green juice, smoothies, or making a stack-able salad!

If using plastics for food, do not store in hot temperatures or use to reheat food. Keep in the refrigerator or freezer to avoid decomposition of the plastic.

Use non-porous stainless steel water bottles (or re-purposed glass bottles like VOSS)
Image: Hydro Flask Stainless Steel Insulated Drinking Bottle, VOSS Water

Store your grains, legumes, spices, etc in glass jars.
Image: Anchor Hocking 3 Piece Square Stackable Glass Canister Set

As a side note, the only company I am aware of that does not use BPA lining in their canned goods is Eden Foods. If you are aware of any others, please let me know.

What are some other ways you’ve stopped using plastics?



YGL staff