Obesity increasingly affects millions of people worldwide, with cases rising sharply in young children and babies – a trend which is not explained by evolving diets and lifestyles alone. Chemicals that interfere with how our bodies store and process fat are referred to as ‘obesogens’, and have been suggested as a possible contributor to the increasing number of obesity cases.
Researchers from the University of Aveiro and University of Beira Interior in Portugal reviewed existing studies, and showed that the most important sources of exposure to obesogens indoors are diet, house dust, and everyday products such as cleaning chemicals, kitchenware or cosmetics.
Diet samples in some of the studies showed, for example, that obesogens such as tributyltin – a chemical in anti-fouling paint banned a decade ago, and cadmium – a metal widespread in the environment associated with certain cancers, can still be found in food products, in some cases at high concentrations.
“Obesogens can be found almost everywhere, and our diet is a main source of exposure, as some pesticides and artificial sweeteners are obesogens,” said said Ana Catarina Sousa, from University of Lisbon in Portugal. “Equally, they are present in plastics and home products, so completely reducing exposure is extremely difficult – but to significantly reduce it is not only feasible, but also very simple,” said Sousa.
Based on the findings of the review, the researchers suggest removing shoes when entering the house to avoid bringing in contaminants in the sole of shoes, vacuuming often, and minimising carpet at home or work.
Researchers also recommend people to choose fresh food over processed products and buying organic fruit and vegetables produced without pesticides. Further studies are needed in order to provide unequivocal evidence of how obesogens contribute to the obesity epidemic.
“These are baby steps to achieve an obesogen-free lifestyle but a really good start. Essentially, watch your diet and get rid of the dust at home,” Sousa said.
“Adults ingest about 50 milligrammes of dust every day, and children twice as much, so keeping the house clean is a very effective measure. And use a humid cloth to dust your furniture, rather than a cleaning product that may contain more of these chemicals,” she said.